Q: I'm going to be doing my first-ever presentation to some executives, and I'm really nervous. What can I do to keep from blowing it?
A: Remember that they are human, and that they want you to succeed.
The inner game
Executives can be intimidating to folks who are newer in the workforce; it's just in the nature of a hierarchy. Some, in fact, may thrive on that. But in my experience, most people who have risen within organizations are well-meaning and want their junior colleagues to be successful. As you think about your upcoming presentation, keep this point of view in mind if you get nervous.
Also look at your self-perception. It's telling that you refer to "blowing it." You won't be helping yourself if you have negative thoughts running through your head. And it makes me wonder if this is typical for you. If so, it will end up limiting your success and is a good habit to break. Try turning around your phrasing: what can you do to be brilliantly successful?
How much do you know about the people you'll be presenting to? If you're familiar with their work styles, their interests, and their goals for what they'd like to learn, you'll be better positioned to meet their needs.
Finally, consider your approach to making presentations in general. When are you most comfortable, and what can you do to recreate those conditions? For example, you may be most relaxed when you feel like the expert in the room; in that case, focus on building your mastery of the content you're presenting.
The outer game
When you have a high-stakes meeting, it's worth it to put forth plenty of effort to prepare. Given your lack of experience with the executive team, you probably do not know a lot about them. If that's the case, set up time with your boss to prep. Find out who'll be in the room, ask about their hot buttons, determine the right level of detail to share, and ask the all important question: What else should I know before I walk into the room?
Based on that feedback, prepare your slides or other material, and have someone review it for clarity and accuracy. Look hard for typos or anything else that could leave a bad impression.
Then rehearse. Know the purpose of each slide and go through your talk out loud until you feel comfortable. You may even want to ask some co-workers or friends/family to listen and give you feedback. Think about what questions may be asked, and have a response in mind. Remember that you can always buy time by promising to follow up on a question you can't answer on the spot.
Develop a routine to use to calm down if nerves start to get the better of you. Taking some deep breaths makes an immediate difference; try it before you go into the meeting to get a good start.
After your presentation is done, learn from the experience. What was most successful? What would you change?
The last word
It can be hard to be in the spotlight, but preparation and the right attitude will help you succeed.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.