To position your publishing team for
success, learn what it takes to sell your ideas to senior management.
By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE
you’re already speaking up in team meetings and getting your ideas across
effectively. If so, how do you feel about facing a room full of senior
management, or at least five around a board room table, all staring at you?
What is different? Well, for one thing the stakes are higher. All business communications are important,
but, with senior management as your audience, you are in the hot seat. They are
going to accept or reject the recommendations that you, your department, or
your team have worked so hard on. Weeks, months, maybe even years of work
depend on your few minutes. Who wouldn’t be nervous?
worry. This is a perfectly natural way to feel. Remember, they can’t see how
you feel, only how you look and act. You want them to focus on and consider
your proposals, not your anxiety. You’ll look cool and collected when you
follow these tips for selling ideas to senior management.
- Practice. A report to senior managers is not
a conversation; however, it must sound conversational. Once you have your
notes, practice by speaking out loud to an associate, or when you are driving
to work, or on the treadmill. Make sure you are familiar with what you intend
to say. It is not about being perfect. It is about being personable. (Remember,
rehearsal is the work; performance is the relaxation.)
- Open with your conclusions. Don’t make your senior level
audience wait to find out why you are there.
- Describe the benefits if your
recommendation is adopted. Make these benefits seem vivid and obtainable.
- Describe the costs, but
frame them in a positive manner. If possible, show how not following your recommendation
will cost even more.
- List your specific
recommendations, and keep it on target. Wandering generalities will lose their interest. You must
focus on the bottom line. Report on the deals, not the details.
- Look everyone in the eye when you
talk. You will be
more persuasive and believable. (You can’t do this if you are reading!)
- Be brief. The fewer words you can use to get
your message across, the better. Jerry Seinfeld says, "I spend an hour taking
an eight-word sentence and making it five.” That’s because he knows it would be
funnier. In your case, shorter is more memorable and repeatable.
- Don’t try to memorize the whole presentation. Memorize your opening, key points,
and conclusion. Practice enough so you can "forget it.” This helps retain your
- Never, never read your lines—not from a script and not from
PowerPoint® slides. Your audience will go to sleep.
- Don’t wave or hop. Don’t let nervousness (or
enthusiasm) make you too animated—but don’t freeze. Don’t distract from your
own message with unnecessary movement.
Where to Start
As you sit
down to prepare your presentation, ask yourself a few clarifying questions:
- What is the topic or subject I am
reporting on? Be clear with yourself so you can be clear with your audience.
- Why is this topic important enough
to be on the busy agenda of senior level managers?
- What questions will my audience be
addressing senior-level management or board members, it is important to answer
whatever questions you anticipate they may have early in your presentation. What
is your central theme, objective, or the big idea of your report? How can you
introduce it in one sentence? Here’s an example of presenting your conclusion
that you’ve been in charge of a high-level, cross-functional team to study
whether there is a need for diversity training in your association. You might
start by saying, "Our committee has spent three months studying diversity
training programs and whether one could benefit our organization. Our
conclusion is that diversity training would be an exceptionally good
investment. Long term we would save money from recruiting, increase employee
retention, and improve company morale. The positive PR could well add to our
market share with our minority customers.”
step is to present your recommendations. Continuing with our example: "We
recommend that the association initiate a pilot program, starting next quarter,
using the ABC Training Company at an investment of $…. The ABC Company has
successfully implemented this program with several of our member companies, as
well as many Fortune 100 companies. All 27 members of the cross-functional team
agreed with this conclusion. Our team was made up of a real cross-section of our
membership—two vice presidents, a facilities manager, 18 associates, some with
PhDs, and six entry-level personnel. The group includes both long-term
employees and some new hires. And all 27 members of the team are willing to be
part of the evaluation committee to study the results before a decision is made
about a complete rollout to our organization.”
describe what’s in it for them; be sure to address the needs of senior
management as well as the association. Answer the questions they will be
asking, and show them how your recommendation can make them look good. For
example, senior management is usually charged with increasing membership and sales
and reducing costs. So your presentation would need to answer:
- Why is this program a good idea,
just when we are cutting unnecessary spending?
- How does this investment compare to
other investments we have already made in this area?
finally, your conclusion: "On behalf of the 27-member committee, thank you for
this opportunity. The friendships we have formed and our increased organizational
knowledge is invaluable to us all. The entire team is committed to this
project. We are asking for your okay to start the pilot program.”
a strong impression and increase your chances of acceptance when you can be
short, clear, and concise in presenting ideas to senior management at your
Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE is a keynote speaker, executive speech coach, and sales
presentation skills expert. Look for more on selling change ideas to senior
management in the January/February 2013 issue of Signature magazine.