I have to give a status update to the senior management on the project I have been managing for the last six months. This is the first time that I am presenting to the big bosses, so I would like some advice on how to handle it. And what are the critical info I should aim for.

The CEO, in particular, is famously unpredictable. Apparently, he might drill down into one single piece of information and throw away the rest of the items on the agenda.

He also likes to ask questions and make very direct comments that can be upsetting. I don't deal well with direct confrontation, so I am a little nervous about this.

I would appreciate advice from you all...

Gary King's picture


I too have a CEO that can be unpredictable. Preparation is the key.

If possible you might consider providing an Executive Summary prior to the presentation. It might solicit a response that will give you an indication of his/her interests.

An additional option is to prepare a more extensive presentation so as to be prepared whatever direction is taken.

Lastly, no one knows the details on this project like you do, correct? If this is really a six month project, my guess is that you could talk to me one-on-one about whatever aspect I asked about. This presentation is nothing more than that.

Consider that the CEO may be attempting to find out more about YOU than about the project when he/she takes a tangent.

Prepare, take three deep breaths, and be self confident.

Good luck


Mark's picture
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Please post again and let us know how long you have to prepare (what date do you present), how long you have to present, and how many other similar presentations will be given in this meeting. Also, is this a standing meeting, or a special one - what will be the agenda around your presentation. (If your manager can't answer this, he's not very good, in light of his surely knowing your discomfort...).

That will change a lot of what I would suggest, and perhaps others would agree.

some stream of consciousness for now:

If you have the time, talk to 3-5 people you know who have presented to this group/the CEO already. What did they do? Try to find situations where they presented on a project. What template did they use? Maybe there IS a template that's standard for these briefs. If not, look at the slides that everyone used, and ask which went well and why.

And please do listen to our podcast on presentations. It's pretty narrow, but it will keep you away from a number of simple errors.

Don't let anyone on this forum or anywhere else tell you you need to come up with some pretty pictures, not have bullet-ed slides, and "tell a story". That MIGHT work, but it's very risky for someone in your situation. Stay basic.

Prepare an exhaustive presentation, and then refine it down to the bare minimum slides that your investigations suggest is good. Have the OTHER slides READY... but don't bore them. If you give the CEO 30 slides for a 15 min presentation, he knows you won't get through all of them, so he will start flipping through them, and ask you a question from slide 22 while you are on slide 5.

Something clever I've learned: if they do have slides in advance, or at least in front of them, you're not going to be able to keep them from skipping forward. So when they start, think to yourself, "AHA! I KNEW you would do that. you're so predictable." I know this sounds corny, but it's better than panicking when they do what you DIDN'T know to expect.

LESS SLIDES, LESS SLIDES, LESS SLIDES. Have 50 prepared, and plan on going over the key 10. Put the rest in an appendix.

When you present, Own your opening and closing. Know what you're going to say in your first 50 words or so. It might be, "Project X is on track and on plan. We're presently 42% complete, and are 3% under budget. Our purpose was to send a man to the moon, which was designed to give ROI of 250%.. Now I'll walk through where we've been and key issues in front of us. I'm happy to take questions at any time." (That last is just a bluff - they'll ask whenever they damn well please, so you might as well tell YOURSELF something to steel yourself for the moment they do.)

If you get interrupted, STOP. Don't you DARE keep talking. THIS is the sign of a confident presenter. If you can (and usually you should be able to ), answer the question as brutally directly as you possibly can.

Q: Did you consider X?
A: No, we didn't. I'll be happy to look into that. (Meaning, don't say ANYTHING other than NO if that's the core answer. it's okay to elaborate, but only AFTER you ANSWER the dang question.

Q: What's your opinion of the affect of interest rates?
A: We believe they will be slightly neutral. Our research was pretty extensive, and it's shown on page 50 of your appendix.

Q: Who's responsible for this mistake?
A: I am. It's my project. I'll address it immediately.

My final point: don't be above rehearsing. REHEARSE. If you can't get folks to spend a couple hours with you, send me your slides ( I am not kidding, this week is good), and mail me to set up a time to walk me through your work. I'll give you feedback. Honest, I'm nice.

Let us know...


mauzenne's picture
Admin Role Badge


One additional point ... in my experience, what may at first appear to be unpredictable may in fact be very predictable. Although to you perhaps not the most relevant question or point that could be made, the CEO's question is probably a reflection of what's on his or her mind. To the degree you can, find out what is troubling the CEO most about your project or even areas tangential to your project -- you may find his/her questions reflective of those themes. And you'd be better for having thought about the answers.

Sometimes what *we* think is most important isn't what the *boss* thinks is most important. :wink:


npatrick's picture

One phrase I think is underused:

"I don't know" - most people feel it is so important to be the expert, that they feel like they are on a game show and have to get every answer right.

Of course, it must be followed up with:

"But I'll get back to you with the answer once I get back to my office/desk." :)

I never feel like I could be prepared enough to answer every possible question my CEO has!


may's picture


The advice from you all is VERY helpful. As I read all the replies, I realized that I actually knew all those to be true... I just forgot I did! (A clear evidence of the panicky state I was in.)

In any case, I still need lots of help... So please keep them coming.

So Mark - I am going to take your very kind offer. I truly appreciate it. I will e-mail you my agenda/presentation tomorrow night, or Wednesday afternoon at the latest. You are nice!!! :-) Thank you.

Some more details and background: (It's long, I know.)

**Extra panic factor**

- My boss is in the process of getting approval from the CEO on the reorganization of my department, this includes a brand new function (planning and analysis) which he wants me to lead. This will be a promotion for me if approved by the CEO.

- I had a couple of one-on-ones meeting with this CEO about a couple of years ago. They went well, and he liked my thought process. My fear now is that if I don't do well here, he might change his mind about me. Poof! Gone is the promotion (and the opportunity to do something really FUN!)

- English is not my native tongue. I normally don't have any communication problems and can argue my case quite comfortably. But when I am in an extremely stressful situaion, my English proficiency declines rapidly. (So your samples of sentences I could use are extra-valuable for me).

**Specific Situation info**

- Presentation Date:
It was scheduled for this Thursday. However, I might reschedule it to next week as I still have not received some of the Q1 numbers. That will be a good excuse if I need more time.

- Meeting Specifics:
The one-hour meeting is scheduled specifically for this project. So the agenda is totally up to me. My boss is relatively new to the company, but his boss (I am his skip) who is one of the senior management gave me this advice when I asked what to focus on in this update:
"Results, Bottom-line, Successes, Challenges, and Where you need their help".

My challenge is to find the right amount of information to present to them. They don't really know what my project entails, so I need to give some background and structure info. However, I don't want to give too much details (which I tend to do) ... don't want to bore them, nor to spend time answering detailed questions that may derail the ability to achieve the real goal of the meeting.

- Real Goal:
To get their full support on continuing with this project, and to roll out the same process with all other products.

- Project Background:
Setting an "Enterprise Strategy" for a specific product with clear metrics (I use Balanced Scorecard concept). These metrics cascade down to the different SBUs and set the goals for them to achieve.

So I to present this project on two levels:

1. Process
I (with the help of the team) outline implementation steps, and include metrics that are process-oriented (lead indicator?) rather than bottom-line oriented (lag indicator?).
- How do I show them the value of having an "implementable process"?
- As the "process" is not "bottom-line", how can I get start the discussion on the process and how to make it better ?

2. Metrics (Goals)
- I need to defend my rationale for setting up each metric (e.g. top line growth), and the goals (e.g. 15% increase).
- Only some SBUs are achieving their goals. What can we do to have them own and achieve the goals. (We have no authority over the SBUs. We can only persuade, influence, and support them.)

I hope you are still reading! Please do give me any suggestions that come into mind. I do appreciate all the help from everyone.

Finding Manager Tools website and forum is probably one of the best things that happen to my career!

Thanks all,

Brent's picture

Note: I am neither Mark nor Mike.

Looks to me like you need to impress the CEO [b]emotionally[/b] more than anything else. You might benefit most from a "WOW!" presentation, one that really engages the CEO in the issues and your proposed solutions.

I suggest that you focus on telling a story. Explain how you got to this point. Demonstrate what your metrics are really showing. Make clear where you need their help. Turn it into an adventure/detective story. (Though, obviously, don't take that analogy too far.)

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge


There's too much here to comment on, but - no offense Brent - don't do a WOW presentation. Stick to the basics for now.

And I am a little stunned that you're supposed to present on Thursday. While I would caution on delaying, even if for Q1 numbers, that doesn't leave you much time to get ready.

Send me something and I'll take a look.


may's picture

Mark -

I sent you a copy of my powerpoint draft. I am not sure if I have the correct e-mail address for you, so I also sent a copy to the e-mail address that is used to send notification of reply to members.

Thanks again for your help.


Afro Boy's picture

So May, how did it go? What was the experience like?