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Release date: 11/1/2013

How To Present To Upper Management (Originally published in NAFA FLEETSolutions November/December 2013 and January/February 2014)

Presentations can be difficult, stressful, yet extremely important to one’s career. Many fleet managers, like many business professionals, would likely prefer to endure an audit rather than stand in front of upper management with the spotlight thrust upon them. Yet, having the ability to explain the importance of your department, its function in the company structure, and even your own accomplishments, is critical to success in business.

“The increasing importance of public speaking as a managerial skill can be largely attributed to PowerPoint,” said Katherine Vigneau, CAFM®, CEO of KMVS Fleet + Consulting. “We are visual people, and we’re so much busier. Senior executives are scheduling their days in 12-minute increments. Putting a 25-30 page report in front of them, even with an executive summary attached, isn’t nearly as efficient or as effective as 5-10 extremely well-planned and thought-out slides.” Of course, then you have to know how to convincingly present those slides.

The option of avoiding such meetings is off the table, but the opportunity to make yourself a better, more confident and assured presenter can also turn you into a valuable asset that gets you remembered, not just heard, and gets plans turned into actions.

It’s going to take some work to get there. To be effective you need to remind yourself that you are a distributor of ideas. Those ideas might be: “The fleet department, when viewed over time, brings value and savings to the organization,” or, “The car that is $500 more expensive than the one most commonly selected is a better purchase considering reliability and depreciation rates.”

Presentations require two levels of development – the construction of the material you will be speaking about, and the actual presentation of that material. In a sense, you write the script and then perform it, but these are two very different disciplines.

“People have to be aware that the benchmark is set pretty high. There’s so much media today, and we see marketing everywhere – on TV, on the Internet, and in print – so fleet professionals have to create a compelling presentation in order to get attention,” said NAFA Affiliate Matthew Betz, Vice President, Business Development at CRSfleet.

Level One: Prioritize and Clarify - The researching and scripting phase is the point at which presenters must collect, collate, and consolidate the information they intend to present, bearing in mind that a typical session should usually not exceed 45 minutes (with 15 minutes for Q&A toward the end).

Condensing the achievements of an entire subsection of an organization, or of a career, is difficult in itself. To present such detail in a meaningful and memorable format may seem impossible. Betz said that you should be especially diligent with respect to planning the length of your presentation. “A lot of people don’t understand that the CEO, CFO, or Vice President of Sales doesn’t want a long presentation unless they have a specific topic in mind.” His suggestion is to develop a quick, concise overview of the material, a recommendation on what should be done, and, most importantly, what this recommendation will bring to the organization – all meat, no fat.

Experts in the field of business communication cite studies where an audience is found to have decided within the first three minutes whether to listen carefully or to “check out” mentally. It becomes vital to eliminate all the inconsequential details, allowing you to focus on only the most important ideas from your collected information. If your “killer” points are powerful enough, you will be asked for more detail. If you overwhelm your audience with too much non-critical or extraneous detail, without keying in on the vital information, you risk losing your audience and missing your mark.

Your focal points should present a logical argument, pro or con. They should be clarified such that when your speech is done, your audience knows that “X” is the best direction for the company to go, and “Y” backs that up with compelling points.

Maurice DiMino is a professional speaker and an author on the topic of making successful presentations. In his book, The Art Of Public Speaking, he suggests that speaking in front of an audience is considered one of the most fear-inducing actions in most peoples’ lives. He proffers: “What is your message? What exactly do you want your audience to walk away with? Begin with the end in mind. It’s all about clarity of message… in the traditional sense, we tend to craft a presentation open, body, and close, but I think that’s the wrong way to do it.”

“All roads lead to the close, so why leave that last and shortchange it?” DiMino asked. “The whole point of our presentation is to get to the close, to the call-to-action, so I instruct people to craft the close first. Be crystal clear about your close and what you want the people in the audience to do (with your information). After that, craft the opening: How are you going to get your audience’s attention? Then, for the last part, craft the body of your presentation. What are the most salient points you want to make?”

“Try to understand who your audience is,” Betz said. He also suggested that you shouldn’t assume that they know who you are. “You may be a recognized expert in your field, but you still have to create a presentation that lays out the facts clearly. Don’t base it on an assumption that just because you’re the expert on that subject matter people
will automatically take your word for it.”

There is the likelihood, however, that people will automatically assume that because you are giving the presentation, you are an expert on the subject matter. One should be aware of this fact and benefit from it. Ensure that the information you present is correct and understandable to the majority of your audience – your inherent “source” credibility may cause them to pay closer attention.

“No matter what profession or industry you’re in, there’s always a certain amount of jargon unique to your trade. Using that jargon might be good shorthand when you’re with a similar group, but it’s an abbreviation. You can’t expect everyone will always understand,” Betz said. Always try to use the clearest, most common terminology so you won’t leave any audience member behind. If that’s not possible, make sure you have defined the terminology so that anyone who isn’t familiar with it knows what you mean.

Humor, while considered a natural icebreaker, can just as easily break the ice you’re standing on. Remember – nobody ever got in trouble for the inappropriate joke they didn’t tell. Keep your points compelling, and try to keep your pace moving, but don’t give into your inner standup comedian.

“A lot of people think that by admitting (to the audience) that they’re nervous, the audience will side with them – and they will,” said DiMino. “But they won’t perceive you as ‘the expert’ anymore. So why would you shortchange yourself by saying, ‘I’m nervous’ or showing you’re not prepared? It just knocks (all your effort) right out.”

“The more you prepare, and the better prepared you are, the less your nerves will affect you,” Vigneau said. “There’s no replacement for putting in the hours. When you are 100 percent prepared and confident about what you’re going to talk about, you eliminate a huge barrier that causes a lot of nervousness.”

“Nancy Duarte, the author of the book Slideology, has done extensive research into presentations,” Vigneau said. “She has found that the great ones take approximately 90 hours to develop (for a one-hour presentation with approximately 30 slides). The first 30 hours are spent in thinking, sketching, and scripting, with the next 30 in building the presentation. Then the final 30 hours are for practice, practice, practice.”

If you are promising to only take up a limited portion of the audience’s time, stick to your promise. Write, rewrite, edit, and time your presentation. Audiences appreciate presenters who honor timelines and will come back for more.

“I’ll ‘storyboard’ my presentation so I know exactly what the basic message I want to put across is, I know what my recommendation is going to be, and I’m going to walk out of that room with an agreement to move forward,” Betz added.

“No matter the time I am given to present, I always construct it five minutes less than my allotment,” DiMino said. “That covers slowing down, people laughing, and the unexpected. It allows me to finish on time or even earlier.”

Timing in preparation is extremely important, but DiMino said that it is imperative in the actual giving of the presentation. “The clock is my master, and I always obey it so that I’m always invited back.”

Sliding to Death - “People at the top don’t just work harder than everyone else,” Vigneau said. “They work much, much harder. You can’t pull together a presentation in a few minutes and expect to succeed. This is something you literally think about for weeks, planning it out in your head, sifting through the information to get to the real gold nuggets.”

The problem is that presenters, having exhaustively researched a topic, may loathe parting with any of the information they have amassed. There is a tendency to try to include much of this information in PowerPoint slides, to complement the verbal presentation. Experts agree this is a huge mistake.

“There is a theory called ‘picture superiority,’ and it indicates that a bulleted list, after 72 hours, has a retention rate of 10 percent,” said Vigneau. “But information presented in the form of a picture, after the same period of time, is retained at a rate of nearly 70 percent.”

“PowerPoint, in my world, is an adjunct – not the whole presentation,” DiMino said. “A lot of people put too much up there. They put the whole script up there! But there’s a general rule of thumb called the six-by-six rule: No more than six lines down, and no more than six words across. And I work with a company where their rule is ONE word, or maybe no words, but the picture or graphic support what’s being said.”

The presenter should never use PowerPoint like cue cards, not only because cluttered, wordy slides completely turn off the audience, but more importantly if you are reading your slides you will more than likely have your back turned to the audience… a huge negative!

“Now who is the messenger? The PowerPoint,” DiMino said. “Everyone’s paying attention to that and you’ve lost your power, and that’s hard to get back. So, per slide, less is more. If you can find a picture that satisfies what you’re talking about, you’re hitting on all cylinders – auditory learners, kinesthetic learners, and visual learners.”

Level Two: Giving the Presentation - Look at all those eyes out there, staring at you, and judging you before you have even said a single word. Guess what – it’s all in your mind.

“The real culprit in this is that you might think the audience is judging you,” DiMino said. “But know this: it’s probably the only time you will have your most empathetic audience.”

“There’s really no reason for awkwardness or anxiety because, when it all comes down to it, the people in that audience want you to be successful,” Betz said. “At the very least, they do not have a vested interest in seeing you fail. If you’re coming to the Chief Financial Officer with cost-saving ideas, he certainly does not want to see you fail.

“They actually want you to succeed, but you need to give them a reason to believe that what you’re advocating is the right thing,” Betz said.

“The statistics are that in the first eight seconds, people make their first impressions of anyone (regardless of the situation), even if we know each other,” DiMino said. “So for those first eight seconds, make sure you’re properly groomed, you have your notes, the PowerPoint is working correctly, and you have a nice smile on your face, making eye contact, and are at ease.”

Betz suggested an exercise in visualization can be useful to calm the nerves.

Presentation Skills - “When I’m doing a presentation, there can be millions of dollars at stake with what we’re proposing. So I will stop and think, ‘If I was watching a movie and someone in the movie was preparing and giving a presentation with a million-dollar outcome, what exactly would that look like?’”

Setting the scene, Betz said that in most movie examples, “They might be nervous, but it is normal to be nervous. But what else might it look like? Have they dressed appropriately? In a movie, they hardly ever show someone in casual clothes giving a major presentation. They dress as they expect their audience to dress: suit and tie or at least a sport coat. They’re well-rehearsed; they relate to the audience…there’s a real value in visualizing how this would look in a movie. It helps people to see what they should be doing, being confident, and in the end getting to that agreement.”

But DiMino again warned that the presenter must always be mindful of the time and know when to start wrapping it up – especially when they’re nearing the end of their allotted time. “If I see that I’m in my last segment, I’ll curtail it, finish that thought and get to my close. If I had anecdotes planned, I’ll set them aside. The whole point of your presentation is your close so you can give them the call-to-action, their next steps… Never sacrifice the close.”

Research, preparation, committed rehearsal, and preparedness will help alleviate a lot of the discomfort. Betz suggested that classes in public speaking and practice are investments in your professional development. You will still be nervous, but your professionalism will see you through.

One excellent resource is Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Visit their website at www.toastmasters.org to find a local chapter near you. Headquartered in California, the organization has more than 292,000 memberships in more than 14,350 clubs in 122 countries. Toastmasters is recommended by many business leaders as a good place to work on presentation skills and gain confidence in front of an audience.

You’ve Got This - The ability to present your ideas and vision with confidence and persuasion is a powerful tool in your businessperson’s toolkit. The end product doesn’t come easy and involves sweat equity. You are always going to be a little anxious about doing it, but the rewards can be great and can go far beyond just “getting the yes.”
Matt Betz concluded by saying, “If you approach every speaking opportunity in the ways that we’ve described, then your ‘stock’ in the organization, your level of professionalism is going to go up automatically.”

You have now given presentations on every subject from vehicle right-sizing, to the cost-benefit analysis data for wrapping your entire fleet. You have prepared and researched. You have ensured that the length of each presentation is appropriate for both the audience and the subject matter. Your PowerPoint slides are designed to complement your commentary, and not supersede it. You are making eye contact and smiling, and those butterflies in your stomach have subsided at least a little bit!

Just when you thought you were in for some “smooth sailing” your next task arrives. You have been asked to speak about yourself and/or your fleet. Although you will obviously be well versed on the subject matter, this undertaking is not as easy as one might think. Can a presenter speak about personal or professional accomplishments without giving the audience the impression that he/she is preaching, or at the very least, boasting? Is it possible to share your fleet experiences, both good and bad, without bruising your professional credibility? Absolutely, on both counts.

Now The Subject Is You - Fleet managers are increasingly not only giving the speech but becoming the subject. With companies looking to maximize the value of every department, fleet included, year-end reviews are now more closely scrutinized, must be more detailed, and must succinctly communicate all aspects of fleet in the language
company decision makers require in order to make critical decisions. Moreover, these reports become not just a financial summary for the accountants, but more importantly, a synopsis of your overall contribution and value to the organization.

“It changes when you are the subject of your presentation, but not a lot though,” said NAFA Affiliate Matthew Betz, Vice President, Business Development at CRSfleet. The presentation remains consistent as it would with any other meeting; however, the material in your presentation must include both a detailed accounting of what you did, and what that means to everyone else.

Katherine Vigneau, CAFM®, CEO of KMVS Fleet + Consulting, spent almost 27 years in the Canadian Army, working in transportation and logistics – she remains active in various military exercises as a civilian logistics consultant. “I was just involved with career counseling for young Army and Air Force officers. Now that I’m out of uniform, I’m no longer the big, threatening colonel so they feel they can come and talk to me,” Vigneau said.

“A couple of them were upset about assessments they had been given. They wanted to know how they could address it in a way that didn’t make them look like they were whiners or bragging about their accomplishments, but instead put them in a positive light, and a truthful light with their superiors,” Vigneau said. This is a very difficult thing to do and requires a sensitive and cautious approach. You must be humble and respectful, yet firmly committed to your goal, and prepared to present counter-arguments in your own best interests.

“This always reminds me of that quote from Dizzy Dean: ‘It ain’t bragging if it’s the truth,’” said Maurice DiMino, a professional speaker and author of the book, The Art Of Public Speaking. “Sometimes we have to toot our own horn so that we can get the business or promotion or, quite simply, we can hold onto our job.”

The Brag Sheet - “Keep meticulous records of what you did this year, what you have set out to do, what you accomplished, how close you came to our goals or did you surpass them,” Betz said.

“A mentor of mine happened to be looking at my résumé once, and saw all these accomplishments I listed and said, ‘You know what? I’m not sure this passes the “so what” test.’ I asked him what he meant by that,” said Betz.

“For example, if I say to the Vice President of Finance that I reduced the fleet size by 15 percent, and he responds, ‘so what,’ the basis for having included that in my accomplishments would be that I saved the organization $5.2 million while not causing a negative impact on the productivity of the employees,” Betz said.

Vigneau suggests that after you have developed your “brag sheet” you should take the time to relate each statement back to the objectives you were given, or to your job description, or the performance standards to which you are held, in order to pass that “so what” test. “It’s not enough to say, ‘I went to these three meetings, then I implemented a new fleet management system, and then I investigated telematics solutions.’ You’ve got to relate that back to the tasks you were given, so when you’re briefing your supervisors on your accomplishments it’s not simply a self-aggrandizing exercise,” Vigneau said. “It becomes more firm and fixed. ‘You asked me to do this, so here are the three or four things I did which I feel contributed to that goal.’” Clearly, the difficulty lies in learning how to “sell yourself” without making it obvious that that is what you are doing. You must present yourself in a positive light, not a spotlight.

“The best way to talk about ourselves is through a third party,” DiMino said. “Is there a situation or a story that has happened in the past with a client or a vendor that really puts you in a good light? As opposed to saying, ‘I did this; I have this attribute,’ relate that attribute through a testimonial story. You can frame it as an anecdote, but it is really a testimonial on your behalf. Stories sell, facts tell.”

Unlike other presentations, be ready to admit your faults and shortcomings. Odds are that your supervisors already know some of them. “If you’ve screwed up in the past, or haven’t done something as well as you would have liked, acknowledge this by way of explaining how you would do it better now,” Vigneau said. “Supervisors and senior management like that. Very few people are going to fire you for a simple mistake. They’re going to keep you on the payroll because you learned from that mistake, and you are
going to do better next time.”

“The more facts and details you document, the more confident you’re going to be in front of your senior management. Make sure you record important information in an organized fashion so you don’t leave anything out,” Vigneau said.

It should go without saying, but there will always be those who are tempted to enhance the results of their latest positive audit or buff up the shine on their department’s achievements a little more than is borne out by the facts. The experts agree – resist temptation. In many cases, your supervisors already have the results of the audit and know the data resulting from your department’s work. You are there to confirm the information they already have and to inform them of the events they might have overlooked. How do you do that without knowing what they already know? Tell the truth and be absolutely scrupulous in your personal reporting.

You can back up your account of events accurately so long as you are being accurate yourself.

Don’t Let It Show - According to DiMino, as a presenter might get up to 90 percent of the way to cool, calm, and collected, but you will probably never get much closer to perfection (especially when you are the subject), and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. I’ve probably given over 2,000 paid presentations, speaking to associations, corporations, mom & pops, public, private, up and down the gamut…and I still get nervous before every presentation. What I’ve learned is that you never want that to go away.”

That agitation, DiMino said, is just his interior self asking if he is in fact completely prepared, rehearsed, and ready to give that presentation. It is his reminder that there’s no better hedge against blowing the big meeting than putting in the effort, the time, and the sweat. Once he has recognized that he has done everything in his power to put his best foot forward, the nerves subside. “I know what my first sentence is, I have my notes in front of me, and I’ve checked in advance to make sure all the equipment is working. I know the audience is there for me, and not there to judge me, and they’re ready for my information - so let’s go forward and have fun.”