How to present to executives

A clear and simple article with some clear and simple advice about how to present to senior executives. It starts, though, with an observation that I think is worth its weight in gold:

“Any given executive is almost always uncannily good at one way of consuming information. They feel most comfortable consuming data in that particular way, and the communication systems surrounding them are optimized to communicate with them in that one way. I think of this as preprocessing reality, and preprocessing information the wrong way for a given executive will frequently create miscommunication that neither participant can quite explain.

“For example, some executives have an extraordinary talent for pattern matching. Their first instinct in any presentation is to ask a series of detailed, seemingly random questions until they can pattern match against their previous experience. If you try to give a structured, academic presentation to that executive, they will be bored, and you will waste most of your time presenting information they won’t consume. Other executives will disregard anything you say that you don’t connect to a specific piece of data or dataset. You’ll be presenting with confidence, knowing that your data is in the appendix, and they’ll be increasingly discrediting your proposal as unsupported.”

There are some general guidelines for how to communicate clearly, but nothing will ever beat figuring out who you’re talking to, understanding how they like to consume information, and tailoring what you present as a result.