Making Presentations to a "C Level" Audience

Find out how to present your product or service to the prospects who inhabit your "common" zone.

By Tony Parinello

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In our continuing series on the art of presentations, we'llshow you how to deliver presentations that address thoseindividuals in your "common" or "C" zone, thezone that most of your prospects are in. And if you haven't yetread last month's column, do it now. It contains criticalinsights into the pre-presentation work that must go into every"C" level presentation!

The Presentation: Getting inthe Zone
Imagine there's an invisible 18-inch barrier surrounding yourbody. Actually, you probably don't have to imagine too hardbecause there almost certainly is an invisible 18- inch barrieraround your body. This is your "confidential" zone. Herein the United States, this is the area most people hold asessentially private, a space only to be occupied by one'sspouse, one's significant other, one's closest relatives(children for instance), and one's domestic pets (pit-bulls andpythons excluded). Here's a critical point: Barrelingthoughtlessly into another's personal zone is generallytantamount to a physical challenge! That's not a great idea ifyou're trying to make sure this "C level" personfeels he or she is in control of the relationship.

There are three other zones you should be aware of. The zonethat's between 18 and 32 inches from your body is known as the"individual" zone, the region where most Americans arecomfortable with social or business interaction that involvespeople they know casually. The zone that's next, the onethat's between 32 and 44 inches, represents the"sociable" zone for Americans. This is the ideal distancebetween a prospect sitting at his or her desk and a visitor.There's another region outside these three zones. It'sknown as the "common" zone, one we'll refer to as the"C" zone, and it's the region in which we Americansare comfortable with (or at least occasionally prepared to accept)announcements of unexpected entrances from others.

Here's another critical point: You must always askfor permission to move from the "common" zone into anyone of the other zones, and it's always best to move only onezone at a time. Suppose you have a presentation to give a C-levelprospect, and suppose she is the only one who will initially beattending. Just before you enter her office (the common zone), say"May I come in?" or something darn close. You must--Irepeat, must--enter the zones one at a time. That means standinguntil you receive an invitation to sit. It also means asking (forinstance), "Is this seat okay?" Do not take up residencein any new zone without gaining permission to do so--and neverbreach the personal zone.

I've watched many a well-researched presentation collapsebecause the selling party:

  • took a seat without being invited to do so.
  • treated the prospect's desk as though it were his or herown (by, for instance, placing some object on it without askingpermission.)
  • "hemmed in" the C level by breaching the personalspace.

Don't let it happen to you!

Here's an example of what I'm talking about. After aperiod of getting acquainted, you may find it necessary to standduring your meeting/presentation--let's say at a flip chart ordry-erase board. Hand your prospect a marker and say, "Whydon't you join me?" If he or she declines, you can handgive them a hand-out with a place for them to take notes. If yourinvitation is accepted, you have just entered into his orindividual zone--with permission--and that's exactly where youwant to be.

The Presentation: Nuts and Bolts

Once you've got all the bases covered and your C levelprospect has given his or her buy in on what you've discovered,you're ready to deliver your presentation. I am often asked bysalespeople if it's really necessary to do a customizedpresentation for each and every new prospect. My answer is alwaysthe same: Either you wing the presentation or you win thepresentation. I prefer the latter, and I hope you do, too.

Here's my four-step process to create a winning presentationfor any CEO:

(Note: I use the word "slide" in what follows as ageneric label for anything that will be shown to your prospectduring your presentation. I prefer to use a "PowerPoint"type of display during presentations I make, and so do a lot ofother people, including C-level titles.)

Step #1: Take what you have and make it better. The bestway to create a tailored presentation for any prospect is to takeyour slides or transparencies and make a hard copy of this materialfor your own review. Now, take a colored highlighter and circle themost powerful thirty words that would appeal to this C-levelprospect. Then create three slides with no more than ten wordsper/slide--or one slide with a total of thirty words.It's your choice. (Personally, I prefer the former.) Forget thefancy graphic images or pictures of the company founder in front ofcorporate headquarters.What you're looking for here are thirtypowerful words that create equally powerful thoughts in the mind ofthis prospect.

Never show a prospect the names of all your other customers.This popular "look how good we are" tactic only serves toinflate your own organization's ego. Instead, show only thelogos of your customers that meet the following criteria:

1. Customers that are shared betweenyour organization and this C-level's organization

2. Prospects of your organization and this prospect'sorganization that are clearly identified as mutual"prospects"

3. Suppliers to your organization that are the same as thisprospect's organization

4. Names of individuals who sit on your organization's boardwho also happen to sit on the board of directors of this C-levelprospect's organization

Always show any piece of financial data that aligns extremelyclosely to this prospect's financial goals. For instance: Theprospect's annual report shows that her company is investing 15percent of each revenue dollar into research and development, andyou know that number is going to be increased to 20 percent for thecurrent fiscal year. Your organization is currently investing 20percent in research and development, up from 10 percent the prioryear. Highlight that parallel!

Step #2: Place the last slide first. One of the besttactics you'll ever use during a C-level presentation is toshow your last slide first. Let's face it--nothing else reallymatters!

I know that the folks down in the marketing department wouldlike to think that brand recognition and marketplace reputation isa great way to start the "education" process of yourprospect. But remember this simple fact and if you want, share itwith the marketers in your organization:

C-level prospects don't give a hoot about who you areuntil they understand what you can do.

So your first slide should plant the value of doing businesswith your firm firmly in the prospect's mind: Here's anexample.


Time-to-Revenue Reduction by 35% Fixed Expenses Cut by15%.

120 daysTime-to-Completion

6 Months Payback at CurrentProduction Levels

And here's what you might say while the C-level prospectlooks at the slide onscreen or in the form of a handout:

"Working with your team, we've uncovered a processto cut your time-to-revenue by 35 percent, while at the same timecontaining fixed expenses by an additional 15 percent. Our teamshave estimated a one-hundred-and-twenty day implementation, with ashort six months' payback at your current level of widgetproduction. In the next fifteen minutes, we'll discuss some ofthe requirements necessary to move forward toward theseresults."

Note: Don't be surprised if the prospect stops yourpresentation at this point and says something like:

"What's this going to cost me and who needs tobe involved?"

Follow the C level's lead! Answer the question and wait forhim or her to tell you what to do next. (When in doubt, repeat thispresentation success mantra to yourself:

"C levels love to be in charge of things! C levels love tobe in charge of things! C levels love to be in charge ofthings!")

Step #3: Proceed backwards. With only a few exceptionsinvolving scientists, engineers and inventors, every corporateC-level title I've ever met works backwards. Here's what Imean: These individuals come up with the grand vision, mission orstrategic initiative first, and then empower someone else (or abunch of someone else's) with the task of figuring out thedetails of the tactical implementation. Mere mortals have atendency to accept a task or mission as a given, and focus firstand foremost on the "how."

Assemble your presentation to match the way C level's think.Start with the result and go backwards--but never go too far! Neverdive directly into the deepest complexities of your ideas; if youdo, your presentation will conclude instantly. Keep in mind thatthe C levels you present to will not have (or desire) anunderstanding of how your stuff works. They simply don't care!Don't try to give them an education about something they justdon't care about or have the time to pursue.

Remember the prospect's question from a moment ago?You'll need to prepare a slide that answers it directly.Here's the question once again, and an example of how theprinciple of "working backwards" should drive yourpresentation. (Notice that, up to this point, you've focused onthe "why" you and this prospect should work togetherfirst, not the "how.")

"What's this going to cost me and who needs tobe involved?"


9 Person Team
$850,000 Investment

5% possibility offailure

And here's what you'll say as they're looking atthis slide:
"If you assign five production engineers, three materialsmanagers and your widget product manager for one-hundred-and-twentydays plus eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars, our suspicionit that you'll be faced with less than a five percent riskfactor to achieve the results we just mentioned."

Don't be surprised if the C level stops your presentationand says something like, "How do we reduce the risk offailure?"

Step #4: Stay away from your product. Start with abenefit, just like we did in our first slide. Then answer anyquestions that may come up, using an advantage just like we didwith our second slide. Forget about the features of your productand service altogether! C levels do not want to hear about thefeatures of what you have to offer. As a general but reliable rule,they care only about the results and the minimization of risks.So forget how you product works along with all the parts and piecesthat it's made up of. (The only exception here, as I'vealready suggested, occurs when you're working with a prospectwho has an extremely serious technical background and has lots oftime. If both are present, then go for it.)

The Presentation: Wrapping It Up

When in doubt, ask, "What do you think we should donext?" At this point, you may well get the response mostsalespeople would dream of hearing from a target company:"Why don't you tell us what you think should happennext?"

I like to end my presentation with an invitation for his or herteam (which includes me) to move forward together--which means athrough evaluation of my ideas. Always place a value (a dollarfigure answer to the question "How much will this allcost?") on this process, and include a time line with acompletion date that your prospect will buy into.

Never ask a C-level prospect, "Do you want me to keep youposted on our progress?" (If you do, you'll get thisanswer: "No, just work with my team.") Instead, send theC level quick notes of your progress on your own initiative:"Met with the engineering feasibility team. Our study andschedule still on track." (E-mail or short e-presentations areideal for this kind of update.)

Make sure that whomever you're working with knows the Clevel's desired schedule of completion. If for some reason, forexample, the product manager can't seem to find the time tomeet with you and your third request for information and a meetingis met with no response, you can drop a note that might say:"Your desired implementation date may be at risk. Waiting forproduct manager's response."

Do This Now:
Type, print out, post and memorize the following Commandments forDelivering Presentations to a C-level prospect:

1. I will memorize the names of each of the individuals who willbe attending my presentation and use the name when I address theindividual.

2. I will always tailor each aspect of my presentation to myaudience.

3. I will always address the needs of my audience from the topdown. C levels first; all others in descending order of title.

4. I will only use words and phrases that the C level I'maddressing understands.

5. I will always prepare a "Discover Agreement" anduse it.

6. I will always rehearse my presentation before I actually giveit to my prospect/customer.

7. I will only conduct a presentation if it will move my saleforward.

8. I will always choose the appropriate method of delivery(three-ring binder to electronic presentation) regardless of mypersonal preference.

9. I will always prompt my audience to make comments and askquestions during my presentation.

10. I will always finish my presentations on or ahead of time.If "overtime" is necessary, it will only take place withthe approval of the highest-ranking person in my audience.

Anthony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important TopOfficer. For additional information on his speeches, SalesSuccess Kits and newest book, CEOs who Sell, call (800) 777-VITO orvisit

Tony Parinello

Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.

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