You’ve been asked to present to upper management. You’ve done the research. You’ve worked hours to get everything to logically flow and the numbers to tie. When a subject matter expert is asked to present to decision makers, the hurdles can be a challenge. These spaces are typically "by invitation only," meaning that — regardless of how innovative your idea may be — you need someone on the inside to help steer the way.
This is where a sponsor — another high-level decision maker who acts as your guide within these rooms — can be an invaluable asset. When making steps to put yourself in front of executives, business leaders, or other managers, a sponsor can be the difference between a cold, indifferent presentation environment and a warm room full of decision makers who are open to your ideas.
Getting In Alignment
The first step to making the most of sponsorship is to make sure you and you sponsor are in alignment. Discuss the nature of your proposed presentation. From there, have conversations that go deeper into the business implications of the proposal.
Most importantly, talk about what you both hope to get out of the conversation. Recognize that your sponsor is sticking his or her neck out for you by way of this presentation, but that they may also have an agenda of their own. By being open and honest about what you both hope to accomplish from the presentation, you can verify that you are in alignment, not just with the topic at hand, but on the underlying motivations for bringing you and your ideas to the table.
The Inside Scoop
One of the ways that sponsors can come in handy in your presentation preparation is by giving you insider information on the decision makers you'll be presenting to. At PowerSpeaking Inc., we emphasize the importance of knowing your audience and anticipating their questions and concerns.
Your sponsor should be your first stop when you begin planning your presentation. Ask them if they can offer insight about the personalities and priorities of their fellow decision makers or executives. Are there any sore spots you'd be best to avoid? Is there executive politics you should be mindful of? Have there been any recent triumphs it makes sense to connect your ideas to? Your sponsor can be a wealth of first-hand information and insight — don't disregard them as a resource!
Practice, Practice, Practice
Before you enter the room, work with your sponsor to make sure you've rehearsed your presentation. Check the validity of your logic with your sponsor ahead of time, and get his or her feedback.
Critically, agree on the basics of how things may unfold during the executive meeting. Go over the way you will be introduced to the room. Ask advice about where your sponsor should intervene and where you should defer to him or her. If an argument breaks out between two or more executives, discuss the expectations of keeping all parties on track and focused. Talk about how the presentation will end and how you will make your exit. Afterwards, make plans to debrief and discuss how the presentation went.
Validating Your Research and Authority
Simply by using their authority and inviting you to present, a sponsor serves to vouch for your ideas in a fundamental, almost unspoken way. They are validating your ideas and research. More importantly, he or she are vouching for you in front of their peers, inviting fellow executives to listen to your ideas and give you the same respect and consideration they'd give your sponsor.
This is a two-way street: While they contribute to your air of authority in the room, your words and actions reflect on them. Be mindful of this and seek to reflect on them positively.
Supporting You In Conversation
When you are finally in the room, all your planning may be put to the test. No matter how tightly you've designed the presentation, there is likely to be some degree of improvisation required. Luckily, this is where the sponsor relationship can really take off. Your sponsor is an ally, someone with the authority and know-how to make sure you get heard. You and your sponsor are constantly reading the room. If you are faced with a tough question, your sponsor may step in to help explain the situation in a context their fellow executives might better understand.
The sponsor-presenter relationship is an important one that can benefit all parties: You get an invitation to present your ideas and insight in front of high-level decision makers, they get to leverage your subject matter expertise. The key is to approach the presentation with trust and alignment, making sure you both are prepared for whatever gets thrown at you.