Exec presentations

A primer on preparing, planning and getting ready to present

originally published on hvpandya.com/exec-presentations

When I joined Search, everyone told me it'd take me about 4-5 months to truly grasp how big of an organisation it actually is. I remember that I'd laughed... "it's never taken me 5 months to grasp something".

Well, you haven't seen scale until you've really seen it. They were right. It was about ~4 months in when I truly started to understand the intricate web of processes and moving systems that constituted the organisation, and in turn, the product. I've covered a bit about navigating a large organisation and being effective here and there's a more detailed follow-up note coming up soon.

I want to focus on a very important part of being a stakeholder in such an organisation: Showing your work to the executives. Every organisation is different and getting such opportunities would depend on how yours is set up. At Search, it is a very systematic part of the job.

Sharing your work

It's done in one of two ways:

  • Asynchronous: emailing link to a slide deck or the design file

  • Synchronous: an in-person presentation in a meeting

I've gone deep on documenting and creating artefacts in my talk at DesignUp that should give you a good idea of how I approach asynchronous sharing. Check out the slides and video of the talk.

Depending on the size of your organisation, you might skew more or less towards synchronous sharing.

Synchronous sharing is a whole another ballgame, and requires a very different approach and skills. By now, I have participated (and presented myself) in many reviews and I want to share some patterns I have observed. Hopefully this can give you enough food for thought when you prepare for yours.

📐 The setup

To the observer, scheduling an exec review could seem a painful ordeal – after all, their calendars are always filled to the brim. Fret not, good organisations make time for reviews in order to keep projects moving quickly. The best way to find time is to book a review time-slot (although this can still be weeks out). I've seen people go through the admins of the execs to shuffle things around to make time for something urgent. We're all people here and negotiations are possible.

Let's assume you got a slot. What happens next? Exec presentations typically run for 30 mins (I’ve seen 15-min slots for quick concept reviews too). That is a very short time to take them through a whole lot of ideas (more on this in a bit).

Because an exec's day is very busy and full of context-switches every 30 mins or so throughout the day, managing their attention becomes a very key aspect of your preparation in the tiny window you get.

Types of presentations

Exec presentations tend be of two types:

  • Explorative: these aim at picking their brains to help broaden your thinking. Execs have the 10,000 ft view of the organisation with access to information and insights that can help you align (or pivot) your work the right way and add their vote of confidence in it.

  • Evaluative: Evaluative presentations aim at getting an explicit sign-off on execution. The goal here is to get unblocked from moving forward with testing or launching something.

A good rule of thumb is to think of Explorative presentations as the means to advance your thinking, and Evaluative presentations as the means to advance your execution.

It's not uncommon to have a mix of both but be wary of the short timeframe you get for your face-time with the execs. It's better to be clear about what you need out of the meeting.

🔬 The details

I'm sure that super quick intro isn't sufficient. Let me dive a bit deeper into how you can think about these presentation types.

Explorative

Explorative presentations are an opportunity to show your strategic thinking. Think of these when you are looking for guidance on a product direction or a new interaction paradigm.

I have an analogy for these: You're a railway engineer who wants to lay a railway track. You want to know whether the area you are surveying is the right one to lay tracks on; whether the direction in which you're laying your tracks is generally the one that the leads are in agreement with... you get the point. The leads can also inform you of your org-mates laying their own tracks parallel or orthogonal to yours that you should know about.

Anyway, back to thinking about these presentations, here are a few questions I try to answer while preparing the artefact:

  1. Why is this important to the users? P0

  2. Why is this important to the company and the org? P0

  3. Why now? P1

  4. How? P2

Evaluative

Evaluative presentations are more clearly defined as reviews. These presentations are where you showcase what you and your team have built and get an approval to run a test or launch it.

The review structure here is admittedly more straightforward. But there is still a great opportunity to demonstrate a bunch of skills here i.e. the ability to explore creative solutions and then self-curating them down to a few considering the engineering complexity vs user benefit trade-off, time to market, upholding product excellence and so on.

  1. What is the user problem summary? P0

  2. What is the exhaustive range of solutions explored? high P1

  3. What approaches were considered for testing and why? P0

  4. What is the final launch candidate recommendation? P0


So there it is. I touched upon the two most common formats of exec presentations I have been a part of in Search, and how to think about them.

But all this wouldn't be complete without some actual tips about running the show.

🍿 Walking the walk

Firstly, it is very important to signal right in the beginning of the presentation whether you intend to be exploring vs evaluating. A key insight here is that execs keep a framework in their back pocket that helps them evaluate your work and help you in the best way possible. It is your job to understand and acknowledge this, and then invoke the correct framework when you start so that they can operate it during your presentation.

Let’s start with framing the presentation. Aiming for about 10-12 lean slides is a good idea.

  • Don't plate too much: One key idea per presentation, one point (not one line, one conceptual point) per slide

  • State the agenda upfront: Explicit clarity about what the presentation is for and what it isn't for helps avoid confusion

  • Know that the presentation is an exchange, so state your asks clearly: Are you looking for resources / staffing / approvals / alignment / resolution (or maybe all of them)?

  • Don't be coy about sharing: Send your deck ahead of time, many leads appreciate this (and if they're already warmed up, it saves you time)

  • Review with someone experienced: They can help hone your vocabulary, tone and framing in order to help you avoid gaffes

  • You can always make it shorter: First-timers tend to over-elaborate and write liberally as a defensive tactic to have on-screen material help them when they present – this is why editing it is always necessary

  • Create a simple deck template and reuse it: All the marks for speed and efficiency here and none for beauty and finesse

Exec presentations are a great opportunity to demonstrate your confidence, ownership and clarity of thinking you put in your work, and your articulation.


Questions? Thoughts? Feedback? Ping me on @hvpandya.

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