I literally spent over a solid week of time on this particular presentation. It was for an extremely important and pivotal meeting and I wanted to make sure it was just right. Every slide was meticulously thought out, designed, and handcrafted for maximum effectiveness. Not too much text, not too little text. Not too many pictures, not too few pictures. The transitions between slides were impeccable.
Going through the presentation was going to take everyone by surprise. They would have no idea they had just spent an hour of their life sitting through another PowerPoint presentation. This just wasn’t a PowerPoint Presentation, it was a PowerPoint Masterpiece.
And then there was the money slide. This was the slide that summed it all up, netted everything out, and ideally, would leave everyone nodding their heads in agreement that the project would continue to be funded. It had sweeping arcs, tell-tale iconography, and an animation sequence that rivaled Disney.
This presentation needed to knock everyone off their feet. After all, it was the quarterly executive review with a Fortune 500 company. This is where top executives from both companies come together and review the status, progress, and risks associated with the multiple year projects that were underway.
The big day came and we were escorted up to the cavernous Board room. Larger than life doors swung open to reveal a room with a view. One side of the room was completely made up of windows that overlooked a picturesque scene. The conference table ran the length of this massive room. Over 20 leather clad chairs were just waiting for us to occupy them.
The presentation was set up. Everyone took their places. The meeting was brought to order. The presentation began. The money slide was the 4th slide into the presentation. Everything was going great as we gracefully moved through slides one through three.
Then, someone accidentally hit a button that caused the screen to disappear into the ceiling and all the equipment to power down! What’s worse, nobody was able to figure out how to get things running again.
I was relegated to handing out a handful of printed presentation copies I had brought with me. Gone were the sweeping transitions, gone were the creative slide animations, and gone was the impact of this slide show I had worked so hard on!
It was replaced by scrappy sheets of black and white paper that had jumbled together pieces of presentation artifacts that nobody could read. How disappointing!
The meeting went well despite the mishap, but it I learned a lesson that day. I could have probably spent my time on things more important than putting together a presentation that nobody even saw. After all, the meeting went well.
The next time I cut the time down by 75% in the time I spent putting the presentation together and things went just fine! Nobody had told me this before. It’s not like there’s project management training on how to make it through a quarterly executive review.
Six Project Management Training Tips for Executive Reviews
#1. What Does This Audience Care About?
Presenting to this audience is very different from presenting to other audiences. You may be used to presenting to your project team or your colleagues that work for your client.
You can be dropped into these meetings at any moment in time and pick things up without missing a beat. They are interested in where things stand, what’s next, and what’s in the way. You know these facts like the back of your hand.
The first lesson in project management training to be prepared for an executive review is that they are interested in something entirely different. This audience of executives is not interested in the details. They want a high-level overview of where things stand (see #2 below for the exception). More importantly, they want to understand how this project ties into the company’s corporate strategy and ways that it supports this strategy. They are more interested in where things are going in the future with the project and less interested in where it has been.
#2. Start at 30,000 Feet, but be Prepared to Land if Necessary
Another project management training lesson about executive reviews is that most of the time they are not interested in the details.
You can keep your presentation at a high level in order to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. But, there are times when you must be prepared to land.
There may be a topic that comes up that has been bogged down for some time. This group of people has the ability to clear things out and move forward, but they will need the details to get this done.
Be prepared to get into the weeds with any topic you are presenting. This may be the opportunity you need to unclog an area of that project that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
#3. Keep it Short
Executives are busy people. They are booked from early in the morning until late at night. Their days are carefully orchestrated.
Another project management training tip for executive reviews is to keep the presentation short. You are on their time schedule. They are not on your time schedule. Think about what happens if you don’t cover everything in the time allotted with your project team. You say it will take another 10 minutes or so and ask everyone to stay. Everyone is usually able to stay and you are able to wrap things up.
It doesn’t work that way in an Executive Review. If you have 2 hours to cover the material, you have 2 hours to cover the material. They will be on their way to their next meeting (mentally and physically) as your allotted time comes to a close.
#4. Cover the Most Important Points Up Front
Prioritize where you put your material in the presentation by its level of importance. Start with those points that are the most impactful and meaningful up front or that you know will take a lot of discussions. Executive review project management training dictates that you may not be able to cover all the material no matter how hard you try. It will be better to have covered the most important points up front. If you run out of time, it will be the less important points that are missed at the end.
#5. Always Leave Time for Questions
Executives are inquisitive. They want to know the who, what, why, where, and when about your project. Make sure that you leave plenty of time for these types of questions to come up in during your presentation.
What if questions don’t come up? Then end the meeting early. If you’ve covered everything that needs to be covered during your presentation, then there’s nothing wrong with ending the meeting a few minutes early. Everyone will appreciate getting those couple of minutes back to their day.
By the way, you may want to ascertain why there were not any questions asked. Was it because the material was covered so well, or, was it perhaps an indication of their waning interest in the project. Project management training for executive reviews will keep you on the lookout for these signs. Don’t assume that it’s one or the other but look at the situation in an honest way with yourself.
#6. Provide them with a Brief Handout of What They Need to Do
Leave the executives with one page “to-do” list with a couple of major tasks that need to be accomplished. For example, it could be that a particular contract needs to be approved, a decision needs to made on a direction to take, and some equipment needs to be purchased. Leave them with that list of actionable items and the rest of your project will go that much smoother.
Oh yeah, and don’t spend a week on one slide of your PowerPoint presentation that in the end doesn’t make that big of a difference anyway! If you apply the list of executive review project management training tips above you’ll find that you no longer dread these reviews, but rather look forward to them as an opportunity to showcase your project and the great job your team is doing!