When Presenting to Senior Leaders – Start With the Answer First

By Diane Craig

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An invitation to present to C-Suite leaders typically prompts excitement. It’s sometimes even a wow moment. “Hurrah, here’s my chance to show what I can do!” Yet all too often, enthusiasm spirals downward into an abyss of fear as the impact of the invitation sinks in.

Whether it was extended to a senior executive or new professional – anxiety is common. The solution to managing the stress is twofold:

a)The Pyramid Principle
b)Practice and more practice

To the uninitiated, The Pyramid Principle is a powerful presentation management system. It actually was “invented” by Harvard Business School professor Barbara Minto. The core of the concept is to start with the ending. The conclusion comes first! Supporting data follows and is logically organized in a specific and easy-to-follow manner.

At Corporate Class, we actively encourage adopting The Minto Pyramid Principle for three reasons:

  • Presenters are forced to construct materials in an orderly manner
  • Audiences learn about the substance of content immediately
  • Back-up data is more understandable when applied to already stated objectives

The rule of three

Coincidentally, this offers an interesting example of a writing principle widely used for structuring presentations with the Pyramid system: the rule of three.
At its essence, the rule of three combines brevity and rhythm to encourage audiences to retain the information.

“The Latin phrase “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) conveys the same idea as the rule of three.” – Wikipedia

Many stories, slogans and movie titles are structured in threes; consider for example, The Three Musketeers, Faster, Higher, Stronger – the Olympic motto or the movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Why The Pyramid Principle?

For many people, the idea is contrary to what seems natural. They want to build up to their big idea and are sometimes resistant to this technique. We remind people that a business presentation is not a movie script or a Broadway show. The audience is not looking for a surprise ending. Busy executives appreciate an introduction that cuts right to the chase. McKinsey & Company, the global management and consulting company to many of the world’s most influential businesses strongly advocates, “start with the answer first.”

Practice and more practice

There is no substitute for rehearsal. The most carefully written presentations fall on deaf ears when presenters fumble. The audience stops listening and paying attention. Even if the presenter manages to get back on track, it’s often too late. This is not to suggest that every presentation should be memorized in its entirety, Notes are absolutely acceptable. It’s the presenter’s ability to use the notes as cues that counts – and that only comes with practice. This process also provides a profoundly calming effect. As presenters become more comfortable with their material, their delivery improves and they feel a new sense of confidence.

Ideally, toward the end of the rehearsal process, a non-threatening third party can play an instrumental role as coach.

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Source:: Business 2 Community

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