Article

Presentations Matter for CEO Candidates 

female asian executive presenting to a group around a board room table
Peter Myers Photo
Senior Vice President
DDJ Myers Ltd

5 minutes

Make the right impression by doing your research and embodying your vision.

Sponsored by DDJ Myers

Here’s the good news: The message embodied in you will be expressed whatever the modality or context—written format, verbal conversation, presentation or interview. You can speak coherently to what you deeply understand and have experienced. For instance, if you were asked questions about your expertise and career history, you’d likely be able to answer to a satisfying degree what jobs you’ve had, what actions you took, and what impacts you had on members, colleagues and staff.
 
Here’s the bad news: What is not deeply understood, researched or vetted is not embodied. If you do not have a level of familiarity with a topic, your lack of expertise, knowledge or vision will show up, especially in pressure situations. If you have not done your homework to an excruciating level, that lack of preparation can manifest as confusing, even conflicting, or—worst case—incoherent assessments and declarations for the future.

The higher you go up the leadership ladder, the more preparation matters. If you are getting ready for a CEO interview, glancing at the credit union’s call report and looking over peer-to-peer ratios are just a starting point. You need to connect the dots between the financials, operations, culture, competitors and marketplace. Look beyond the surface-level variables and ponder such fundamental questions as, “What are we trying to keep about our culture today (that drives our performance) that may need to shift in the future?” or “What’s the role of the evolving role of the board in the future to ensure we stay successful?” 

Come back to your homework after your initial thoughts have percolated and take another swing at it. Come up with a coherent historical message that paves the way for a compelling future vision for the organization.

Only then can you start to embody your vision for the credit union. And by doing so, you’ll be more likely to withstand the pressure of a high-charged CEO interview—where, by design, we as executive search consultants help board members ask difficult questions. It’s their job to understand the talent in front of them at a sufficiently comprehensive level. It’s our job to make sure they get the best possible talent. It’s your job to present what you are made of and what you can do for the organization.

While our focus here is on CEO readiness and executive leadership, this dynamic plays out in everyday life, too. Recently a door-to-door salesperson stopped by our house. My sons, 9-year-old Marley and 3-year-old Calvin, and I opened the door and greeted our visitor. The gentleman immediately presented as nervous. That’s fine, I get it. He realized he was likely bothering a family in the middle of cooking dinner, but he still had a sales job to do. 

Unfortunately, that mission and message were not embodied. Instead, Marley later shared this response to his presentation: “Wow. That guy said ‘um’ a lot, and it was kind of distracting.” 

I’m not trying to call out this guy. Afterward, I felt bad that I didn’t offer to help him make a stronger pitch. To be honest, I saw the train rattling on the rails long before it jumped the tracks. What he was selling was fine, and I’m sure some people would benefit from it. But I’m not convinced that those who might be interested in the idea’s merit would take the interaction to the next stage based on his presentation--what he did and did not embody. 

My older son and I ended up turning this encounter into a teaching moment. I said something like, “You know how sometimes I ask you to pause and take a deep breath when you’re telling a story—and ask you to stop saying ‘um’?”

“Yeah,” Marley responded, and I saw the light spark in his eyes.

“Well, it’s because you’re not quite ready to deliver your message, and if you pause and think through the content that you want to say, your mom and I honestly are more ready—and willing—to listen!”

“Oh my gosh, dad! That makes so much more sense now!”

As our conversation continued, Marley and I agreed that it’s not really about the number of “ums.” It’s about being able to speak, present and converse in a manner that captures your audience's attention and getting them interested to go to the next conversation (e.g., 2nd round interviews). 

This reality is relevant for any leader in a multitude of circumstances. Not only do you need to know your audience, you need to know your message. Every time you speak up in a meeting, you are presenting something. Every time you ask a question, you’re presenting your level of curiosity and your understanding of a topic. And when you don’t ask questions, you might be presenting a lack of curiosity, engagement and thought to the matter at hand. 

One of the messages we emphasize with our CEO candidates is, “You’re going to make an impression no matter what. Put intention behind the impression you would like to make. In many cases the questions you ask will leave a greater impression than the answers you give.”

We’re not suggesting that you ask directors “What’s the meaning of life?”-type questions. We’re saying ask questions that are contextually relevant—that you may ponder as their next CEO. Maybe it’ll take you a year to figure out the answer, and it’ll likely take a number of board meetings to discuss and ideate. 

In sum, think about what you embody in these terms: You’re always presenting something. That something is what boards are considering hiring as their next CEO. They’re choosing the person who can deliver the future. Toward that end, your past experience may get you to the table for an interview, but it won’t win you the job. Hiring a CEO is the most important decision a board makes. By that logic, your presentation might be your most important and career-defining moment. 

Make it count and make it happen. #presentationsMATTER cues icon

Peter Myers is senior vice president of CUESolutions provider for succession planning DDJ Myers Ltd., Phoenix. Click the following links for more information on CEO succession planning and CEO readiness.

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