Developing the Right Kind of Presentations to the Big Dogsa


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The concept of presenting to the big dogs first came from Rick Gilbert, Founder and Chairman, Power Speaking. He interviewed a number of CEOs to gain an understanding of what irritated them about presentations and what advice they would give people presenting to the big dogs.

I spent 10 years as a CIO – and now as a CEO I see the world very differently and can appreciate what you need to do to present effectively to the Big Dogs. For CIOs, there are some key differences between IT audiences or a middle level management audience and a C level audience.

There are a number of steps to consider when presenting to C level executives.

Step 1: Preparation

Build support in the room; take the time to cover off at least one person who will be in the room. I use to fly to HP in Geneva a day in advance to loiter around the coffee machine to “bump” into some of the senior executives to whom I would be presenting and sound them out on my approach. This meant when I presented I had at least one supporter in the room. Ensure your numbers are correct and peer reviewed as a simple mistake will completely undermine your presentation. Practice your presentation to an empty boardroom at least fifteen times before you present to them.  Your presentation should cover how your proposal is good for customers, bad for competitors or helps employee productivity.

Step 2: Understanding who you are dealing with

Most CIOs are left brain dominant whilst most CEOs are right brain dominant – this means they process data differently. The majority of CEOs are TYPE A personalities which means they are time poor, have low attention spans, can multitask and are good with numbers. They are more driven, more focused, more goal-oriented, more diligent, more likely to get stressed and emotional. They will all have a different view on life: CEO – what is the strategic impact; COO – just trying to get through the week; CFO – wants to verify the data, the numbers. You may need to send through information prior to the meeting for different people in the audience, depending on their type and role – this will get their attention and interest. You need to think about the political impact of your presentation, eg: is there a danger of one of the executives feeling threatened or embarrassed. If this is the case you need to cover off that executive before the presentation.  No surprise is the golden rule.

Step 3: The presentation

The first thing to remember is that pace is as important as content when presenting to the big dogs. You need to at least double your speed, they will let you know if you need to slow down or focus on a point.

For a 30min presentation you need to plan on presenting for  10-15minutes, 2 to 3 minutes per slide, use only 5 slides max and ensure that you have a slide informing them what you need out of them that day. Remember it is their meeting too so respect their time – 50% you and 50% them.

 The second thing to remember is it not a presentation but a structured discussion. Your goal is to get people from point A to point B. Having built your presentation, actually bring your final, concluding, slide to the beginning so the final point/s are shown immediately and then tell them how you got to that conclusion. Most of the time they will not let you present the rest of your slides but they will have a discussion with you on your conclusion. The key here is they want the bottom line of your presentation upfront – they are not interested in a shaggy dog story.


Watch the audience and be fully aware of the mood.  Are they getting bored, do you need to speed up or have you got the wrong brief and have lost them. If this should be the case, ask the question, “I seem to have lost some of you – should I come back with a different brief”?

If you run into trouble – or the discussion gets taken into another direction – you must be able to abandon your presentation and chair the discussion to help you get your desired result. Question the audience, particularly if they are glazing over.

It’s common for senior executives to ask you to jump back to a previous slide or fast forward through your slides to a particular section of your presentation. If the discussion is taking longer than planned be prepared to abandon whole sections of your presentation and focus on the bottom line. Expect them to say “next” or move along. They are not being impolite they have understood your point faster than the average audience. You may need to move to the white board to reach a conclusion. If you have bad news, get it out up front – don’t wait


This is career impacting. Show your self-confidence, your depth of understanding and commitment, and think outside the narrow scope. Integrity and humility must be evident in your style. Remember, they are on your side, you all work for the same company and they want you to be successful.


Make it short. No one has ever said a presentation was too short. Big Dogs will think you’re competent and worth listening to if you get to the bottom line fast and know when to stop talking.  After the presentation think about whether you learned anything of a confidential nature, which you should not share with others. If you took any follow up actions get them done that day or that week and with a bit of luck they will be happy to see you again. 


Most CIOs are left brain dominant whilst most CEOs are right brain dominant – this means they process data differently

Big Dogs will think you’re competent and worth listening to if you get to the bottom line fast and know when to stop talking


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