Effective Communication

4 Proven Tips for CEOs to Project Confidence During a Presentation


As a business leader, you know that presentations come with the job. But like other presenters in the digital age, you’ve probably encountered a few distractions. There’s a lot of information vying for people’s attention. How does a CEO remain relevant in the age of the smartphone, social media, and VFX animation?

Chief Executive Officer of CDK Global and former Intel CEO Brian Krzanich leveraged an unconventional entrance to wow the crowd at the 2016 CES keynote presentation. He zoomed right in on an Intel-powered hoverboard! Every eye was glued to the stage—and then the hoverboard turned into a Segway robot.

Later, Brian unveiled Intel’s new collision-avoidance drone in similarly eye-popping fashion. The drone in question followed a cyclist as he navigated trail obstacles in a faux forest on stage. The drone effortlessly avoided a fallen “log” and other encumbrances—and the audience was thrilled.

Today’s audiences prize the experience above the product. They want action, not just a slideshow. In this article, we discuss four ways to make more compelling presentations and connect with your viewers.

How to Deliver a Captivating Presentation

1. Use elements every movie maker knows.

Have you watched the new Avengers: Endgame movie? It grossed more than $1 billion from theaters during its opening weekend. In all, it’s annihilated every competitor in its genre and broken box office records across the global stage.

You may not be a superhero battling for earth’s survival, but you can be charged with equally important tasks. Perhaps you’re focused on building your organization’s brand profile and recognition.

Although you may have a skilled marketing team and responsive, SEO-optimized website, you still need to make product presentations at trade events or professional functions. That’s when you should take a leaf out of the Avengers handbook.

“Wow” factors almost always involve drama and conflict. By extension, drama presents human beings at their best and worst. When the good guys win, the satisfaction is palpable.

So, when Brian Krzanich unveiled Intel’s new creations, he focused on our primal need for triumph. He demonstrated how Intel products conquer challenges that used to seem impossible. To tap into your audience’s emotions, satisfy their primal desire for autonomy and a more dignified world.

2. It’s not just what you say, but what the story means to you.

What happens when a CEO tells a story that falls flat? Instead of clapping, the audience lapses into an uncomfortable silence. You might begin to feel sorry for the CEO up there at the podium.

These days, every public speaking expert stresses the importance of story-telling. But, not all stories are created equal. For example, to engender an emotional connection with your audience, you can talk about a personal struggle you’ve overcome. But delivering a secondhand anecdote isn’t going to resonate as deeply with your audience.

The late cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner insisted that authentic stories are more powerful than listing statistics. Stories help us make sense of the world. In fact, Bruner maintained that each of us is surrounded by powerful narratives that guide and shape us throughout every stage in life.

According to Nick Morgan, the author of Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact, seven communication cues can make or break the success of a presentation:

  • Persona: Are you powerful, trustworthy, and commanding? Do you elicit confidence from others rather than fear?
  • Emotions and Non-Verbal Expressions: Do you look happy, stressed, or moody? How many times do you make eye contact with your audience? Do you focus your emotions and body language to project the right persona?  
  • The Ability to Read Others Effectively: How effective are you at gauging the emotional cues you’re sending out and getting back?
  • Voice: Do you come across as authoritative or unsure?
  • The Ability to Combine Voice and Social Signals to Deliver an Important Message: Do you synchronize your voice and body language to make a powerful impact on your audience?
  • The Power of the Unconscious: How successful are you at managing your core thought processes? Do mostly positive or negative images prevail in your mind?
  • The Power to Tell an Authentic Story: How successful are you at using the right gestures and vocal tones to tell a compelling story?

In his book, Morgan highlights the importance of telling an effective story. He maintains that the most successful presenters are those who leverage the right combination of power cues to shape impressions and prompt specific responses.

Building rapport? Visit our column on effective communication.

3. Engage your audience by challenging antiquated ideas about CEO presentations.

PresentationInstead of falling back on old, tired cliches about how CEOs should give presentations, try these fresh takes:

  • Having just one person on stage is passé. Shake up the status quo. Share the stage with an audience member or another senior-level executive.
  • Be passionate about the content of your presentation—it lends authenticity to your message. You don’t necessarily need to yell to communicate excitement. It’s all about the sincerity of your emotions.
  • Leverage augmented or virtual reality to engage your audience. Show them how your product is created by using these technologies to “walk” them through your factory.

4. Make your audience part of the action by asking for feedback.

Do you remember the last time someone offered you honest feedback about a presentation you gave? Were you pleased, surprised, or angry? Or, perhaps, you didn’t get honest feedback at all?

As a C-suite executive, you’re likely familiar with a common conundrum faced by professionals at your level: Your subordinates are afraid to provide any constructive feedback. However, feedback is a surprisingly powerful tool. Without it, the Dunning-Kruger effect can annihilate your ability to make effective and informed operational decisions.

One CEO finally managed to solicit real feedback from his employees by leveraging “soft” approaches, such as being a better listener, asking well-framed questions, and exhibiting a less guarded demeanor.

In short, don’t underestimate how feedback can energize your audience and inspire a strong sense of trust between you. During his tenure at Apple, Steve Jobs was immensely successful in getting fearless feedback from employees. His secret? He only hired those who weren’t afraid of going toe-to-toe with him.

The Bottom Line About CEO Presentations

CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates are accustomed to making presentations. They appear comfortable in the spotlight. However, not every CEO (or future CEO) welcomes the thought of public speaking.

If the above sounds like you, consider signing up for our one-on-one executive mentoring program. You’ll be paired with experienced CEOS who’ll listen to your concerns, offer solutions, and provide guidance on a host of challenges.

For more helpful resources tailored to C-suite executives, take a look at our free online classes.


About the Author

Shireen Stephenson is a shockingly effective B2B copywriter, video scriptwriter, and content strategist. She has worked with clients from all over the world. During the day, she's a serious marketer who has helped many businesses envision, create, and execute branded content marketing campaigns. In her free time, she likes to binge-watch Netflix dramas and play silly cartoon games on her Kindle. Connect with her on LinkedIn.