Avoid Career Suicide — Learn the Power and Finesse of ‘Speaking Up’

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Career Undone: Know the Rules for “Speaking Up” by Frederick Gilbert, author of "Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations."

Speaking Up
Source: Amazon.com
Speaking Up

If you are in middle management, you live with daily ambiguity,? lack of control, and chaos.

To get anything done, you must present your ideas to people up the chain. Those presentations can be brutal. Careers and projects can come unwound in a matter of minutes if a presenter at the top level doesn’t know the rules. ??

Unfortunately, a shockingly high number of mid-level people (67%, actually) don’t know the rules, and march right into top-level meetings and shoot themselves in the foot by: 1) not saying what they want at the beginning; 2) having too many PowerPoint slides; and 3) sticking rigidly to their scripts.

This is a formula for career suicide.


On the other hand, when the presentation is done well, the presenter becomes a star and the company becomes more productive. So, to make a top-level presentation a career-enhancing rather than a career-limiting event, follow these three rules:

#1 First line: bottom line

Very bright, time-pressured, Type A senior executives don’t have time to spare, so get to the point immediately. Steve Blank, founder and former CEO of Epiphany noted, “Smartphones have gotten so good in the last five years I can quickly get on the Internet, check my email, or make a call. If you don’t get and keep my attention in 30 seconds, I’m gone.”

#2 Reduce or eliminate the PowerPoint

United States Congresswoman Anna Eshoo commented, “I simply don’t have time for PowerPoint.” If there is one thing executives are clear about, it is their hatred of bloated PowerPoint slide decks. Even Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft , famously commented, “Please, don’t show me the deck.”

"A shockingly high number of mid-level people don’t know the rules (of executive presentations), and march right into top-level meetings and shoot themselves in the foot." -Author, "Speaking Up", Frederick Gilbert

Being overly dependent on slides is the mark of a junior person who is not ready to move up. Executives have told us they prefer to have a conversation with the presenter, not be subjected to a nonstop slide show. Felicia Marcus, former Regional Administrator, EPA, commented, “Presenters seem to think we’re just PowerPoint receptor machines.”

So, keep slides to a minimum. During your delivery be sure to use the ‘B’ key to make the screen go blank. It is a great way to reengage the audience and focus more on the discussion.

#3 Facilitation is key: listen and improvise

When tempers are flying around the executive table, trust will accrue to the speaker who can listen well and show understanding of the various positions. Listening for the “question behind the question” will build confidence and good will. Here your active listening skills may be more important than your content.

Improvisation will show the top executives that you are flexible - something required in today’s business world. Get your lead from jazz musicians or stand-up comics. The Harvard Business Review noted, “The best team leaders are like jazz players, improvising as they go along.” In other words, do not be tied to your prepared content. The direction of a senior meeting can change on a dime. Your willingness to dump your script and go in the new direction will mark you as a leader.

Steve Kirsch, CEO of OneID , commented, “Eighty percent of your success at the top level is your ability to facilitate the meeting. Only twenty percent is due to the content per se.”

In summary, for most of us, top-level presentations will be the most challenging and most important we will ever make. Careers and projects can hang in the balance. Like Alice stepping through the looking glass, the rules all change in the C-level meeting room.

Apply these three strategies to your next presentation, and you will be successful.

Frederick Gilbert, the author of "Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations," is the founder and chairman of PowerSpeaking, Inc., a speech communications company in Silicon Valley. Rick’s coaching of more than 200 senior-level executives led to his creation of the award winning program Speaking Up ®: Presenting to Executives.

Email me at bullishonbooks@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @BullishonBooks