Launching an Executive Presentation

You want smart colleagues and executives to collaborate with you on ideas for improving your business. Of course, they’re busy and distracted; so you have to convey ideas quickly and clearly if you want to engage them.

You have about 90 seconds in a meeting (and much less time online) to persuade an audience that your idea is relevant and promising enough to warrant further attention; so before you can get into the details of your proposal, you have to frame the discussion for your audience. You need a few well-chosen sentences that get their attention and give them the gist of your proposal and a reason to care about it. The sequence of statements that previews your idea, precisely and concisely, is called a launch frame.

Your first statement should connect to what the audience already knows and cares about. As Peter Drucker famously said, “People listen to you for their reasons, not yours,” so make sure you start with something they recognize and agree with. Barbara Minto (The Minto Pyramid Principle) calls this starting point the SITUATION.

Ideally, your first statement will get them to nod their heads in agreement.

Here’s an example of a SITUATION statement from a marketing manager meeting with executives at one tech company:

We’re all looking for ways to improve the return on our e-mail marketing campaigns. Right now our e-mail ads are getting a response rate of less than 0.2%, which doesn’t cover the cost of developing them.

When the speaker made this statement, the executives nodded their heads. They agreed – and then they wanted to know what he had to add to the conversation. What did he know?

If you invoke one of your audience’s concerns, they’ll expect you to add some relevant information or perspective – which is the next step in building your frame. Barbara Minto calls your next statement the COMPLICATION. You unsettle or “complicate” the audience’s SITUATION by adding new information or perspective that points to an opportunity or a threat.

The COMPLICATION in our marketing presentation sounded like this:

My team recently sent out a carefully targeted ad to 1,000 names on our accounting affinity group – and we got a response rate of 8.2%.

This statement sets up an opportunity. Your audience now wants to know what you plan to do about it – so you introduce theSOLUTION, your idea or proposal for responding to the COMPLICATION.

In the marketing presentation, the SOLUTION sounded like this:

I propose that we create a similar targeted ad campaign for each of our 34 customer affinity groups.

When you put a specific idea in front of executives, they reflexively ask: What will that do for us? – which sets you up to state the IMPACT or benefit that your plan will deliver. It will sound something like this:

It would cost only $60,000 to design and manage the cam­paigns. Given the size of these combined lists, and assuming a response rate comparable to what we got in the pilot, we could add $8 million to sales in the next two quarters.

That’s your frame: Four statements that create the equivalent of a movie trailer for your business case. The SITAUTIONstatement grabs the audience’s attention and provokes a question that the COMPLICATION answers. The COMPLICATIONprovokes a question that the SOLUTION answers, and so on. Because you’re always one step ahead of their questions, the audience stays with you. You successfully manage their attention.

When you’re pitching to executives (who want random access to your knowledge), you’ll typically state your whole frame (in 60-90 seconds) upfront so they can jump right to questions. This approach to introduc­ing a proposal is sometimes called “Answer First.”

Try this metaphor: your launch frame lays out the home page for your proposal so the executives can click on the topics they want to explore – for instance, they might ask “What did these targeted ads look like?” or “Let’s see the numbers from the pilot.”

Since the frame is a logic path – tracing the steps by which people make sense of a proposal and persuade themselves to support it – you don’t have to lay a whole frame out at once to spark a good discussion. For instance, if you want to facilitate an online discussion among your colleagues, you could post your SITUATION and COMPLICATION on the discussion board and invite SOLUTIONS. Someone might propose the one you’ve thought of – or something better.

So, here’s a reliable plan for building a business case launch frame:

SITUATION Connect with a specific issue or initiative that the audience knows and cares about. Find the specific point of agreement between you and your audience that sets up your business case.

COMPLICATION Introduce relevant information or new perspective that puts the situation in a new light and points to an opportunity or a threat.

SOLUTION What do you propose? What’s the best response to the new information under the circumstances?

IMPACT What will your solution accomplish? Measure the benefit with metrics that matter to the audience.

To make the most of your audience’s attention up front, verbally draft a launch frame with a colleague before every important meeting or presentation.

[Read more about Barbara Minto’s strategies for organizing information in The Minto Pyramid Principle, 2003.]

©2014 Steven Tomlinson