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Your big moment has come. You are making a presentation to your company’s top executives.

Beware. It’s easy to blow the chance and wind up looking foolish.

“When presenting ideas to the CEO, even seasoned leaders who don’t regularly interact with the C-suite fall into a few common traps that can be easily avoided,” executive coach Sabina Nawaz writes in Harvard Business Review.

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She outlines four of those traps:

  • An idea without a problem: You may be proposing a great idea that excites you. But your CEO hears lots of great ideas – too many on which to act. “For yours to stand out and be useful to the CEO, it must solve a problem,” says Ms. Nawaz. Begin the presentation with the problem you’ve identified and spend time creating context, illuminating the pain points, and establishing a sense of urgency to tackle this issue. Don’t rush to the solution – it’s the problem the executives want to hear first.
  • An idea without a clear return on investment (ROI): After establishing the problem and sharing your idea you now need to demonstrate it will help grow the business. “First, show how your initiative will self-fund within a short period of time. Next, project how it will grow in revenue to support both its expansion and begin to fund other parts of the organization,” she writes. Include estimates for the money needed for infrastructure and setup.
  • A presentation without interaction: You have been asked to talk to the top team, so your intention will be to talk. Wrong! When talking to the executive suite, she says, people often over-explain obvious things and don’t leave enough time for interaction. So divide your time in two, with the first half for your exposition and the second half for questions. “While that seems like an outsized chunk, used well, it can be the most valuable part of your talk. Rapid-fire, blunt questions are a sign that executives are interested in your idea. They’re processing what you said, testing various angles and hypotheses, and generally want to know more. A common misconception is that if there are no questions, then things went well. The opposite is usually true. The more questions you receive, the better the presentation,” Ms. Nawaz says.
  • Data without attention to detail: Be careful you answer any questions correctly, however. If you don’t know the answer, admit it and promise to get back to them quickly. Be sure of your facts and, if there’s an error, follow up quickly with a correction.

Avoid those four traps and you have a greater chance of success.

The list

After a job interview, you can follow up six times, depending on the circumstances, Rachel Premack writes on The Ladders:

  • Check-in 1: Send a thank-you note after the interview
  • Check-in 2: A couple of days after they said you would hear from them, you can re-contact the company.
  • Check-in 3: They will have responded to your previous call or e-mail with an indication of their current timing. Wait until then before checking in again.
  • Check-in 4: If, and only if, their feedback indicates they are very interested in you.
  • Check-in 5: If weeks or months go by and they still haven’t made a decision but have indicated interest.
  • Check-in 6: If you didn’t get the job but want to thank them again for their time and consideration.

Quick hits

  • The fourth quarter is a good time of the year to ask for a raise. Schedule a year-end review, prepare your case and, if your boss’s feedback is positive, be specific about what you expect.
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos tries to make his most important decisions just before lunch, when he’s the sharpest.
  • When selling, a good way to win trust is to undersell, says consultant Jeff Mowatt. If customers are thinking about buying something that goes beyond their needs, you can offer a more appropriate solution.
  • Consultant Laurie Ruettimann says the best interview question is this: “Let’s say you’re hired. A year has passed. You’re about to quit. How have we failed you as an organization?" It gets at behaviour and character by applying some psychological discomfort and allowing you to hear how someone answers an uncomfortable question. It’s also realistic because most companies fail their workers in a year.
  • Pinpoint the most frustrating, stressful part of your week and commit to some movement immediately afterward such as a walk around the block, says writer Nora Battelle.

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