Influencing Strategy by Design: Executive Presentations

by Luke Wroblewski January 17, 2008

One of the last topics discussed in the Influencing Strategy by Design class taught by Tom Chi and myself is executive presentations. When working on strategic initiatives that impact business direction, more likely than not, designers will need input and buy-in from key stakeholders.

Presenting to executives doesn’t have to be a high stress affair. In fact, many senior level leaders relish the opportunity to hear customer stories and get an influx of data from “the front lines”. Because of their far-reaching responsibilities, executives can’t know all the information they need and are often short on time. As a result, they are data hungry and want the information they need presented with high data density and clarity. Understanding this mindset illuminates several ways to structure and get the most out of executive presentations:

  • Tell a story: ensuring there is a deliberate narrative flow that guides your message keeps the conversation moving forward toward a decision. Loosely coupled points are much more likely to derail on tangents and less likely to yield consensus.
  • Provide new insights. Executives are often several layers away from the customers they are serving. Bring them information supported by analysis that helps them make better decisions and empathize with customers.
  • Visually communicate. Presenting strategic implications, dependencies and outcomes in a visual manner affords an opportunity for deeper discussion about the connections and trade-offs of business decisions. Use visualizations to provide a lot of information in a clear and easy to parse manner.
  • Be knowledgeable. Know your story and numbers well enough to go impromptu. A lot of business decision-making is done on the spot. Be prepared by thinking through conversation scenarios, likely questions, and possible tangents.
  • Believe. Be excited about what you believe in. Passion commands attention.

Following a successful executive presentation where strategy was adjusted based on the insights presented or a project was approved, it’s crucial to close the loop by following up: when new data validates or refutes an insight; when key actions have been executed; and when performance data on the action comes in.