If you're a manager, having to meet with senior leaders probably makes you at least a little anxious. Those meetings give executives a snapshot of your team's work and can impact your own success within the company. If you hit it out of the park, good things usually follow. Execs want to see your leadership chops, how well you think on your feed, and whether you have what it takes to tackle bigger responsibilities.
So how can you brush anxiety aside, show your potential, and make the impression you want to make?
Here are eight tips for taking control and guaranteeing success when meeting with higher-ups:
One of my clients recently told me she always used to feel stressed at her boss’s monthly meeting. She knew her stuff, but when we looked at her schedule, we realized she was often rushing to them after her own back-to-back meetings without a minute to spare.
She needed more time to catch her breath, look at the agenda, and mentally prepare. Reworking her schedule to block out time for her to brush up helped boost her confidence, and she found she was better able to participate when she sat down at the table.
I once watched a colleague of mine endlessly tinker with the wording on his PowerPoint slides right up to the moment before his presentation. Of course you need solid content to grab your audience’s attention, but when you’re speaking to senior leaders, you need much more than a striking PowerPoint show.
Instead, think of it as a tool for spurring the right conversation. What decisions will be made during the meeting, and what information will be needed to make them? Pin down those objectives first, then plan your presentation accordingly. And stick to what's essential. Too many slides can signal that you plan to do all the talking or even that you can’t manage your time effectively.
Anticipate the issues your audience cares about most. Put yourself in their shoes, and make a list of potential questions from your listeners' perspective. What do they want to know? Do they want in-depth details or just the headlines? How much time do they want to spend listening to you? If you base your presentation around your audience’s needs and interests, you can align your time and content to fit them.
Most key leadership meetings have a few special attendees—those who have rather strong views or a special interest in your topic. Seek out these people in advance, listen to their opinions, and incorporate what you can into your presentation.
Even if they don’t agree with your recommendations, speaking with them ahead of time—and even addressing some of their concerns—can reduce the risk of them derailing the discussion. What's more, those one-on-ones will show off your collaborative side, all while giving you a little more control during the meeting itself.
Make a list of big and small things that could go wrong during your presentation, and plan for each item as best you can.
If you’re using technology, arrive early to test it. How many meetings have you attended where the presenter and someone from the tech team are frantically trying to fix an issue just as everyone's taking their seats, delaying things from getting underway? Starting late and frazzled is no way to build trust.
Joining the conversation with your senior leaders can be unsettling, but the longer you’re in silent mode, the more difficult it becomes. Kick down this mental obstacle as early as possible by finding a small comment to make or a question to ask. Get involved. A small, early comment will make your next, more substantial contribution much easier to make.
Regardless of how hard you worked on your recommendations, don’t get defensive or resistant when someone in your audience has a new idea. It’s inevitable that one of your higher-ups will propose a change or two or want discuss something that's not on your agenda.
Go with the flow, and be ready to adapt. Don’t hold all your recommendations in such a tight grip. Back up your strongest views with research or facts.
Keep your audience from being passive spectators. Don’t only talk about what you’re going to do—make sure they leave with steps to take, too. It's okay to ask those higher up in the organization to do things you and your own team can't. Share how you think they can help, ask for their ideas, and give them a call to action. This is essential for turning the leadership staff into active sponsors.
A meeting with your leaders can be intimidating, but when you plan properly and take it step by step, it’s much less of a mountain to climb. Keep these eight steps in mind, and your audience will definitely take notice. Confidence and an ability to be effective on a bigger stage are essential for not just for the meeting itself but for your career goals, too.
Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consultancy that she founded in 2004. She’s also the author of MakeWaves: Be The One To Start Change At Work And In Life. She and her team advise clients including PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, and Frito-Lay on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Follow Patti on Twitter @pattibjohnson.