Just One Thing—How to Ace Your Next Executive Presentation

Just One ThingThe “Just One Thing” Series at Management Excellence is intended to provoke ideas and actions around topics relevant to our success and professional growth. Use them in good health and great performance!

While some people view an invitation to present to executives as a prison sentence (or worse), this truly can be a career enhancing opportunity. However, like any challenging situation, preparation and attitude are keys to success.

I’ve worked with dozens of professionals faced with this opportunity for the first time, and every encounter reminds me of my own early emotions as I prepared for and dreaded my first senior management presentation.

It’s not worth the churn, dread and sleeplessness folks, especially if you prepare properly and thoroughly.

7 Ideas to Help You Prepare for and Nail Your Executive Presentation:

1. Start early and prepare your mind. Unless you are presiding over a disaster of monumental proportions and have been summoned to explain yourself in front of the firing squad, this is a positive invitation. It’s an honor to be invited and it is an opportunity to establish an impression with the people who can choose you to be successful. Prepare like it’s the next most important job interview of your career.

2. Know who invited you and why. Since someone had to champion getting your name placed on the agenda, it’s important for you to tune into why you were invited and precisely what they are expecting from your time on the agenda. Your inviting sponsor in this case has a stake in your success and typically will do whatever it takes to help you prepare for your presentation. Leverage this resource liberally.

3. Know your audience. This one can be difficult for individuals who have had very little or no prior contact with members of the senior management team. Your sponsor or your boss may have some insights, and of course, it’s reasonable to err on the side of assuming that the group is comprised of successful, smart people interested in facts, well-developed ideas, clear plans and how all of this will help the firm achieve its strategic and financial goals.

4. Plan your message. Whatever your topic is, you’re in front of the executive team for just a few brief moments. Use this time with the skill of an entrepreneur asking for an investment in an idea. Your message must be crisp, your key points or recommendations defensible and your defense supportable.

While most of us tend to launch powerpoint and think in serial fashion when preparing for a presentation, start by planning and tuning a message map before you build your first slide. (Note: it’s OK to skip the slides…see point #6.)  The message mapping process forces you to lock in a clear central theme and then defend this theme with key points and supporting evidence. A properly developed message map offers you the ultimate support for answering the expected difficult questions from your executives. Also, everyone will appreciate a crisp, well-developed message delivered with clarity and confidence. (For more on the technique, check out my post: The Career Enhancing Benefits of Message Mapping.)

5. Bring your confidence and back it with transparency. Executives smell “lack of confidence” immediately, and they know when someone is attempting to obfuscate the issues. Confidence and transparency are two critical components that must be present when you present to this group. A perceived lack of confidence will destroy your credibility in the moment and any attempt to mask risks with sunshine or offer visions of results that cannot be supported will result in you effectively inviting an air strike of questions that you will not recover from in this setting. Alternatively, clearly describing risks and highlighting assumptions while offering a way forward will earn you serious credibility stripes. It goes without saying that having your message down cold (thanks to your message map) and ample practice, will help you build confidence.

6. Focus on the message and keep the materials clean and simple. If you suck at building clear, crisp, bullet-light and text limited slides or handouts, get some help. Call in a favor from a colleague or go into favor debt, but ask for help. Leave the eye-charts, clip-art and complex animation builds for some other setting. The visuals and supporting materials must never fight the messaging and thanks to our mostly sloppy use of the presentation tools such as Powerpoint, they often do just that.

7. Admit it if you don’t know it. Said another way, never, ever make stuff up. While this piece of advice might seem preposterous, the pressure of the event has overwhelmed many an accomplished professional’s common sense, especially in the face of tough questioning.  You are much better off admitting you don’t know something than attempting to bluff your way through the answer. The best response in this situation: “That’s a great question and instead of hazarding a guess, I will get back to you today.” And then do it!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Last and not least, remember that the prevailing attitude of the executives before you open your mouth is one of interest and hope. You wouldn’t have made the agenda if they weren’t interested in hearing and learning from you, and you can bet that good executive members are always excited to have intelligent and confident new voices join the discussion in planning the way forward for the firm. Make a great impression and you will be back. Perhaps in a new and improved capacity!

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

Congratulations on the MBA! Now What? Some Key Do’s and Don’ts

what is next?Note from Art: It’s graduation season again in the U.S. and for most newly minted MBA graduates, it’s time for a reality check. Here’s my annual (updated) note offering some hard-won words of wisdom on how to navigate the steps immediately following your graduation.

All over the U.S., there’s a fresh new crop of MBA candidates preparing to say goodbye to their classmates as they wrap up what will be for many, the final phase of their academic careers. A key question on their minds is, “What’s next?”

For the graduates, there’s an expectation that the degree will reasonably and quickly translate into new opportunities, fresh promotions and improved earning power. While those who graduate from the top-tier schools may find themselves on a fast or at least faster track towards opportunities and increased earnings, many (read: most) MBA graduates face a reality that looks an awful lot like more of the same, albeit, with a bit more free time.

There will be ceremonies and speeches and parties, and rounds of drinks offered up by coworkers at local watering holes.  Bosses will congratulate the new graduates, and then June will melt into July, and in many cases, not much will change for the now former students.

For those who find themselves facing a post-school return to corporate or professional normalcy, without the hoped-for “pop” from the degree, here are some thoughts on coping and capitalizing:

10 Key Do’s and Don’ts for Newly Minted MBAs:

1. Do accept that your boss views you the same on the Monday after graduation as she did last Friday. Nothing has fundamentally changed about you in her mind. Sorry, but there’s no immediate mantle of legitimacy or wisdom bestowed upon you as you shake hands and grab the diploma. You’re a work-in-process, just like the rest of us.

2. Do congratulate yourself for having the intestinal fortitude it takes to complete your degree while working, balancing family responsibilities and all of the other challenges of life. Believe it or not, your current and many future bosses will view your accomplishment not so much as remarkable or rare, but rather as a sign of your tenacity and ability to stay-the-course.

3. Do make the effort to connect with as many of your fellow students as possible on LinkedIn. You share a lifetime bond with your MBA classmates and if properly cultivated, this portion of your network will be there to refer, hire, recruit or support your efforts for your entire career. Of course, you are there to support your classmates as well.

4. Don’t expect a promotion just because of the degree. It happens, but it’s not as common as you might have anticipated. The almost immediate post-MBA promotions are most often an outcome of a development program already in-place coupled with the recognition that the timing is right to task you with more. Every boss knows that tGraphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordshe new MBA will toy with the idea of moving to greener ($) pastures, however, if you weren’t on the high-potential or fast-tack list prior to the degree, the sheepskin won’t make much of a difference in the current environment. Translation, you’ll have to navigate your own way up or out.

5. Do use the milestone as an opportunity to work with your boss and refresh your professional development plan.  It’s a great time to sit down with your boss and update or create a professional development plan. There’s every reason for you to assert that you can and want to do more for the firm, and every civilized boss will recognize the need to start feeding this fresh appetite or risk losing you.

6. Don’t even remotely hint that unless you are promoted you are gone. It’s time to show what you can do, not show that after 3 years and $150,000, you’ve grown arrogant.

7. Do accept that the completion of your MBA is the beginning of your next apprenticeship as a leader and a professional. Grad school doesn’t teach you how to lead, nor does it turn you into a great strategist, a future CEO or a management innovator.  You’ve apprenticed on the tools…mostly the science of management and you’ve got a license to begin applying them.  The real work of learning to lead and learning how to create value for your stakeholders has just begun.

8. Do recognize that your primary task is how to make yourself more valuable to everyone around you. Now that you are no longer distracted by school, it’s time to answer, “What have you done for us lately?” Accomplishments are the currency of the realm, not degrees!

9. Do take responsibility for developing your own professional brand. In a world where we all own our own brand, take responsibility to cultivate and manage your brand by using the tools readily available to all of us. Start a professional blog. Contribute to articles. Seek out leadership opportunities at work and in your private life and use tools like LinkedIn, your own personal website and others that emerge over time to showcase your professional value.

10. Don’t shirk your responsibility to continue learning. Too many professionals complete the degree and then go decades without investing in their on-going development. Keep reading. Start writing. Pursue training and development around leadership, strategy or in your chosen discipline. Sign-on to teach as a means of giving back. Just don’t let the gray matter rest for too long. It needs to be stimulated and fed.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Congratulations! I’ll buy the first round and then tomorrow, we’ve got to figure out how to thump competitors and survive and thrive in this incredibly complex and fast-moving world. Sure hope you paid attention. Now show me what you’ve learned!

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

5 Common Sense Ideas for Growing Your Power at Work

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsWhile we often associate the concept of “power” in the workplace as something bestowed by title or gained and maintained through political gamesmanship, you neither require a promotion, nor do you need to plot and claw your way to the next level to grow your power.

In most workplaces there’s an over-abundance of the stuff just lying around waiting for someone to pick it up and apply it. There’s no reason why that someone can’t be you.

First, Some Context on Power at Work:

Power and it’s close cousin, Influence, are not dirty words. Both are components of every organization’s environment and both must be carefully cultivated for you to succeed whether you lead teams or functions or serve as an individual contributor.

Those who leverage power drive the organization forward by making decisions, by developing, or leading key initiatives and by bringing the right resources and expertise to bear for a given challenge.

Nothing significant happens in an organization without the application of power and influence wielded by those who have carefully cultivated these qualities.

5 Ideas to Help You Grow Your Power and Keep Your Integrity Intact:

1. Start simple. Pick a visibly vexing problem and lead the charge to solve it. It’s amazing how many visible workplace problems go unattended. It’s the fire in the garbage can syndrome. Groups look at it, talk about it, wonder about it, but no one seems to do anything about it. That’s your cue!

2. Serve as a Network Connector. Cultivate relationships with peers and higher-ups in functions other than your own. Look for opportunities to bring members of disparate groups together on projects or one of those problem-solving activities you grabbed control of in #1 above. Your knowledge of and access to other resources, particularly people or teams with unique skills is a valuable source of power.

3. Tune in to Your Boss’s Goals and Help Her Achieve Them. Nothing cultivates upward influence like actively supporting and advocating for your boss. Leverage those cross-functional relationships you’re busy developing to push her agenda along. As she succeeds, you succeed.

4. Attach Yourself to High Visibility Projects. There’s nothing particularly shameful or evil about striving to participate in the big projects with senior executive visibility. Do a good job with the first three on this list, and your odds of successfully attaching yourself to the firm’s “Failure is Not an Option” initiatives go up considerably.

5. Make Heroes Out of Your Colleagues and Team Members. Seriously. A grateful network is a powerful network. Help those around you gain visibility and achieve their goals and you’ll gain long-standing support from a growing group of thankful co-workers. Contrary to the many misguided attempts I’ve seen from people who lived to grab the spotlight, I prefer to shine it on those around me making things happen. It never hurts to have a large number of people who are grateful to you for your support.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Jeffrey Pfeffer in his excellent book, Power—Why Some People Have it and Other’s Don’t, offers ample evidence for the importance of cultivating power to lead a happy (and even healthy) work life. Healthy and happy are what it’s all about. Instead of associating growing power as something requiring you to step all over others on your way to the top, try the noble frontal assault on this important workplace asset. You might just be surprised how easy it is to become that person calling the shots, guiding the resources and making things happen across your organization.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

What the Boss Learns About You in Every Conversation

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsWhile you may not know this, that idea you bounced off of your manager the other day and your response to her questions on one of your projects both play a critical role in your near future success and the speed of growth in your paycheck!

The best managers work in a perpetual mode of talent scouting, focused on assessing the people on their teams and actively looking for individuals they can trust with more responsibility. The impressions you create when the boss is present run deep and will positively or adversely impact your next steps.

What Effective Managers are Listening and Looking For:

  • Do you understand our business?
  • Do you understand our customers?
  • Do you think through issues from all perspectives?
  • Do you bring fresh creativity to solving problems?
  • Do you understand how your ideas or approaches might impact other parts of the organization?
  • Do you rail and rally against “this is the way we’ve always done it” thinking?
  • Can you build coalitions and rally resources to resolve problems?
  • Are your ideas innovative?
  • Do you display leadership even if you’re not in charge of anyone but yourself?
  • Does your thinking and do your approaches align with our values?
  • Have you sought out others for help?
  • Are you operating with a sense of controlled urgency?
  • Have you learned from prior mistakes?
  • Are you striving to develop yourself and advance your career?

On the Dark Side:

  • Are you attempting to manipulate me?
  • Do you have an agenda that you’re not openly highlighting?
  • Do you focus on others instead of yourself?
  • Do you strive to show everyone you are the smartest person in the room?
  • Is the solution to a problem always to give you more people and power?
  • When you talk, does my spider-sense tingle on whether you fit our culture and values?
  • Do you take credit or dispense credit?
  • Do you delay, forestall and derail with your hesitancy?
  • Are you on auto-pilot in your career and in this job?

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Someone once asked me when I take the time to evaluate performance and my response was something to the effect of “During every conversation and in every meeting.”

Jack Welch once offered this comment on the role of a leader: “Leaders relentlessly upgrade their team, using every encounter as an opportunity to evaluate, coach and build self-confidence.”

I love coaching and helping build self-confidence, but the best bosses are always in “evaluation” mode. And while evaluation is best handled over time and through many exposures, don’t discount the impact of your performance in the moment.


Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

 

It’s Your Career—A Guide to Becoming a Better Employee

It'sYourCareerWhile guidance on developing as a leader is plentiful…perhaps in over abundance, there’s relatively little in the daily flow of business and management writing devoted to developing as an effective employee.

For just a few minutes, let’s turn the world of leadership and management advice upside down and take on the perspective of the boss and what she’s looking for from you as a member of her team.

10 Things the Boss is Looking for From Effective Employees:

1. Your Presence AND Engagement. We all know that you’ve got to be present to play…that’s table stakes. What the boss really wants beyond your physical presence is active involvement and full attention from the gray matter between your ears. For that period of time when you’re supposed to be on, the focus must be on your work, on collaborating with others to solve problems and on finding a way to meet the challenges in front of you and in front of your team or function. Leave the kids, the dogs, the dentist and the divorce outside of the office.

2. Some Excitement for Your Work. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable it is to engage with, support, develop and promote people who are passionate about their work. It’s amazing how hard most bosses will go to avoid or remove those who are phoning it in every day.

3. Solutions. Some employees are experts at describing problems, but forget to offer ideas and solutions. Spend too much time talking about problems and all that the boss hears is whine, whine, whine. No boss promotes a whiner. Never frame up a problem without offering ideas, and be sure to include yourself as a volunteer to help implement the solutions.

4. Creativity. Working with and managing creative problem solvers is one of the true highlights of almost every boss’s job. Real creativity…different ways of sizing situations or considering solutions and developing new approaches to exploit opportunities, are all priceless to the boss.

5. Speed. Remember that old ad with a headline of “The Boss is On His Way” and employees were shown moving through the office with flames coming out of their rear ends? Well if not, imagine it. Yes, speed and urgency are of the essence. Get it in gear! Don’t let those programs, commitments and follow-up items linger. Nothing annoys a boss more than an employee who says he’ll do something and then it moves at pre-global warming glacial pace.

6. Just the Right Level of Communication. I’m always amazed at employees who don’t take the time to figure out and deliver on the boss’s preferred communication style. If your boss is an active communicator, then don’t distance yourself and make him or her chase you for updates. If your boss is one of those “don’t bug me unless the world is ending and you can’t fix it on your own” types, the frequent updates will just annoy her. Frequency, subjects and level of detail are all important issues you for you to figure out and tailor to meet the boss’s communication needs.

7. Interest in Your Own Development. We’re suckers for people who want to improve their performance and improve their positions and careers. Tell the boss you are interested in developing. Come to the discussion with ideas on where you want to go. Show that you’ve been doing your homework. Show that you are spending your own time improving yourself and then open the door to working together to help you achieve your goals. We melt when approached by people who care enough to push themselves and most of us will move mountains to support those individuals.

8. Your Feedback. Yes, we all need feedback, even bosses. Sadly, as people climb the ladder in the world of bossdom, the flow of incoming feedback tends to slow to an occasional drop of good insight. All good bosses are striving to improve. Find a delicate but clear way to help the boss improve around a specific issue. If he bites your head off, that may not be a good boss. The rest however will be grateful for any useful performance input.

9. Your Thoughtful Opinions and Occasional Polite Dissension. Believe it or not, many bosses truly value employees who share their ideas and offer different perspectives. They value complete thinkers who are confident enough not to just nod their heads. Of course, they also value employees who embrace a decision and act upon it, even if the decision goes against the employee’s recommendations.

10. Your Avoidance of the Office Boss-Bashing Olympics. Bashing the boss ranks up there as one of the world’s oldest full contact sports. It’s tempting to be one of the gang, but that’s a gang you want to avoid. Out of respect for yourself and your situation, skip the boss bashing…regardless of your own opinions. And for a good boss driving controversial change, the bashing will be plentiful and she’ll value your support more than you can imagine.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

You own your career…you own your performance and whether or not you like it, we all report to someone. As Jeffrey Pfeffer offers in his book, Power, someone must choose us to be successful. Instead of being a pain in the boss’s neck, try putting some time and energy into the ten items above. You’ll find work that much more enjoyable, and it doesn’t suck to be on the winning side of promotions and career growth.

Related Post: 

If the Boss Asks You the Time, Don’t Tell Her How to Build a Watch

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leader’s on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.