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Presentation skills for the C-suite [A complete guide]

Effective presentation skills are crucial for any business, and the C-suite is no exception. Whether it’s delivering presentations to investors, communicating with employees, or working with external partners, the ability to clearly and persuasively convey ideas is essential for success. However, even the most experienced and accomplished leaders can struggle with communication, that’s why it’s important for the C-suite to continuously work on improving their presentation skills.


Here’s a nice quote to motivate you,


“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” —  James Humes

Are the C-level doing a good job at presentations?

Unfortunately, no. Most leaders would like to be awesome speakers & dazzling presenters. But the reality is far from ideal. Here’s what we found from authority sources.

  • According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, 85% of executives believe that their presentations lack impact.

  • A survey by the American Management Association found that 75% of executives are not satisfied with their presentation skills.

So, it’s safe to say that C-suites around the world need to work on their presentation skills.


Note: When we say presentation skills, we mean PowerPoint presentation skills & public speaking skills. The communication skills are wide & include concepts like interpersonal skills. Hence, we’re sticking to the skills where you’re speaking one-to-many.


Ink Narrates | The best presentation design agency

Who are we to write an article on this?

As a presentation design agency, we specialize in researching all aspects of presentations. In this article, we will discuss the importance of presentation skills for those in the C-suite and whether or not these skills are truly necessary. If yes, what can you do as an executive to polish your presentation skills?


First thing first, let’s address the elephant in the room.


Is it absolutely necessary for the C-suite to possess presentation skills?

Recent buzz phrases such as “Death by PowerPoint” and the ongoing debate about “Speech vs Presentation” have raised questions about the importance of presentation skills. However, it remains a requirement to present products, visually showcase ideas and make presentations at events.


Reality is a little different. In recent years, there has been an increasing expectation for executives to make public presentations as part of their job duties. In our opinion, three major factors are driving this…

  • Leadership transparency and accountability: In the wake of high-profile corporate scandals, investors and other stakeholders are demanding greater transparency and accountability from companies. As a result, executives are under pressure to communicate more openly and transparently about their company’s performance and plans.

  • Greater competition for attention: In today’s competitive business landscape, companies are vying for the attention of customers, investors, and other key stakeholders. To distinguish themselves from the competition, executives must be able to articulate their company’s unique value proposition in a clear and compelling manner. Hence, presentation skills are vital.

  • More focus on personal branding: Recently, there has been an increased emphasis on executive personal branding. Executives are expected to embody the company’s values and mission, and public speaking is a crucial tool for them to showcase their leadership and establish their personal brand.

What do we mean by C-level presentation skills?

The C-level presentation skills can be divided into two parts: design skills and presenting skills. You can’t bypass presentation skills as an executive, we have good reasons to establish that. But, do we mean your skills should be equal to a presentation designer or an agency? Let’s see.

  • Presentation design skills: We understand that you may not have professional design experience. Still, when we refer to design skills, we mean that you should have a basic understanding of presentation software like PowerPoint and be able to make modifications to already designed files. In our opinion, you should work with professional presentation designers to get your slides designed.

  • Presenting skills: Presenting skills include the ability to effectively deliver a presentation, including public speaking skills, the ability to engage with an audience, and the ability to answer questions and handle audience interactions. To master this skill, you need a good understanding of the audience, effective use of body language and voice, and the ability to adapt to different situations.

What steps can C-level executives take to improve their presentation skills?

Most people will give you the advice to either join a workshop or work one-on-one with a coach/consultant.

To be honest, I think self-learning is the most effective approach because the existing service providers can either teach you design skills or public speaking skills, there’s no combined training available as far as I know. In my opinion, learning presentation skills isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a continuous process and hence, self-learning is the best approach.


So, if you’re starting your learning journey, here are a few things you can do on your own.


1. Learn the art of storytelling

Learning how to tell a story is one of the most rewarding experiences. If I am to suggest the best way to improve your storytelling skills…I’d say read books. Some of the best books are “The Art of Storytelling” by John D. Walsh, “Made to Stick” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, “The Power of Storytelling” by Jim Loehr, “The Storyteller’s Secret” by Carmine Gallo, and “Storytelling with Data” by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.


With these books, you’ll learn how to structure a story, how to create characters and conflicts, and how to use data and visuals to enhance the storytelling experience. The most important part of storytelling is understanding the context to implement a winning story. Context could be business, education & even personal development.


2. Explore the power of PowerPoint

If you think PowerPoint isn’t a worthy tool, think again! PowerPoint is the most commonly used presentation software and you need to explore it to see the depths of visual storytelling.


As an executive, it’s your duty to know PowerPoint. I don’t mean you should be able to “make the ice cream vehicle move” with animations, I mean you should at least be able to edit templates & get an idea of how visual storytelling works. So, get acquainted with PowerPoint. When you know common presentation software, you’d be able to brief the designers better, craft compelling presentations & communicate effectively. It’s a skill in itself!


3. Work on body language

Body language is an important aspect of presentations as it greatly impacts how the audience perceives and receives the message. Nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, and posture can convey emotions and attitudes that complement or contradict the verbal message.


For example, maintaining eye contact with the audience can convey confidence and trustworthiness, while avoiding eye contact can convey nervousness or dishonesty. Using open and expansive gestures can convey openness and enthusiasm while crossing arms or hunching over can convey defensiveness or lack of confidence. Maintaining good posture can convey authority and professionalism while slouching can convey a lack of interest or engagement.


Body language is one of the most important yet most ignored parts of presentation skills. As the C-level is the “face of business”, their body language is associated with the brand’s value & perception. So, the stakes are high & so is the cost of not learning. I know working on body language isn’t a 3-hour training thing but you can learn this through resources.


For example, the LinkedIn learning course “Body Language for Leaders” by Carol Kinsey Goman is the best I know of.


4. Practice voice modulation techniques

Voice modulation should be declared as a presentation skill because the tone, pitch, and volume of the voice convey the speaker’s emotions.


For example, speaking with a monotone voice can make the audience lose interest and disengage while speaking with a dynamic voice can make the audience more engaged and interested in the topic. Speaking at a slow and steady pace can help the audience to understand and absorb the information while speaking too fast can make it difficult for them to keep up and understand.


Presentation design & voice modulation have an interesting relationship. The visuals make it nice to make the voice modulation work. With the absence of supporting visuals, you’re trying to hold the audience with just the tone of your voice. That’s rough terrain, especially for introverts!


5. Know basic presentation principles

Understanding the basic presentation design principles can help C-level executives to work efficiently with the design team/agency, create a basic design & avoid causing “death by PowerPoint”. Knowing basic design principles may not go a long way, but it sure helps with saving big embarrassments.


By basic design principles, we mean colors, typography, and slide content.

  • Colors can be used to create visual interest and convey emotions or meanings. For example, red can be used to grab attention and convey a sense of urgency, while blue can be used to create a sense of calm and trust.

  • Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable, and appealing when displayed. Choosing the right typeface, font size, and spacing can help to make the presentation more legible and easy to read.

  • Have you heard the phrase “Less is More”? What does it mean? Less content means a more focused, clear, and concise message. Using less text and more images or graphics can make the presentation more engaging and easier to understand. By using a minimalistic design, executives can ensure that the audience focuses on the most important points of the presentation.

Should you hire agencies to train the C-level in presentation skills?

The simple answer is…No, it’s not the best idea! Presentation skills aren’t something you can teach with a few days' workshops. It’s a continuous process best developed with self-learning and being accountable for your own skills development. There are many facets to presentation skills & C-level executives can develop them over time.


So, what should you do instead? Consider all the points we talked about in this article & identify your weaknesses. If you have an agency/in-house presentation department, then the design isn’t your concern.

Work on the areas where you see the scope for development & make your own custom learning strategy.


All in all!

If you’re an executive who’s evaluating to learn presentation skills, you should know that the ROI is extremely high. If you’re able to engage, influence & attract with your presentations, you’re going to benefit in terms of network, deals & not to mention your personal brand.


In case I haven’t mentioned, we design presentations for executives. Whether it’s an investor presentation, conference presentation, or a sales deck, we love crafting incredible presentations that win hearts. If you have a project for us, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


 

Ink Narrates is a Presentation Design Agency. We craft storytelling PowerPoint presentations & provide services in presentation outsourcing, pitch decks, sales decks, animated presentations, template systems & design guidelines. Basically, we live & breathe presentations!

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