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Karin’s Leadership Articles

Powerful Presentations: Teaching Your Team To Talk Strategy

by | Mar 18, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning, Results & Execution |

Practice is the Secret to More Impactful Presentations

A “stand and deliver” presentation on your results is always nerve-wracking. But you know what’s even more painful? Watching a direct report flounder as they struggle to give a powerful presentation.

Start By Remembering How and What You Learned

Remember when you…

  • couldn’t sleep the night before
  • were so stressed, you missed the main idea
  • failed to anticipate the political dynamics
  • used the wrong words, which took the entire conversation downhill
  • didn’t have supporting documentation
  • couldn’t answer obvious questions
  • left them with the wrong impression?

What didn’t kill you can make them stronger.

This month I am spending time with each of my Director teams conducting “teaching” operations reviews. Modeled after performance meetings all executives at our company do each quarter, we brought the drill-down to the frontline and middle management level. In fact, in the review I just completed, we had 5 levels of leadership in the room, all working together to become better at selling their strategic stories. Leaders teach other leaders to build powerful presentations. Leaders growing leaders.

The Powerful Presentations Process

We asked each team to develop a formal Powerpoint deck highlighting their results, opportunities and action plans. The teams co-presented strategic stories to a cross-functional panel of leaders. It was an operations review in every sense of the word. They took me deep into their work. I asked provocative questions, with a twist lots of time-outs and immediate feedback and coaching. My Directors asked too, with a different perspective. Slide by slide, we talked about what could make their presentations more powerful.

The Powerful Presentations Ground Rules

  • All feedback is given in the spirit of love and development
  • This is about teaching you to operate at the next level or more. The questions will be tough, and you may get stuck. That’s okay.
  • We are going to interrupt, give feedback, ask questions, dispute statistics, drill down, question slide format, share stories of our mishaps, and raise political dynamics along the way
  • I also promise to share my “inside voice” (this is what I immediately think when you say that or when you show me that slide)

Crafting Powerful Presentations

We encouraged the teams to build their talk track strategically to answer these 3 questions

  • What key message do you want me to remember?
  • What do you need me to do?
  • Why should I believe in you?

What They Learned about Powerful Presentations: (as reported in the debrief)

About Preparation

  • Anticipate the questions based on execs in attendance (i.e. Finance, HR, Field)
  • Understand every number and point on the slides
  • Have back-up data
  • Understand your back-up data (sounds obvious but can be trickier than you think)
  • Ensure your boss is aligned with everything you are going to share (never blind side your boss)

About the Slides

  • Less is more, keep the slides clean and simple
  • Avoid cutesy graphics and distracting movement
  • Include trending
  • Forecast improvement. Based on this plan, I commit to having this metric be at (X) by (Date)

About the Talk Track

  • Begin with a problem statement, then share actions
  • Call out the opportunity first, if something is a problem point it out (before your audience does)
  • Ask for what you need
  • Be brief and be gone (don’t keep asking for more questions, quit while you’re ahead)
  • Acknowledge and thank your peers (in the room and outside of it)
  • Reference previous presentations (“as Jane just share”)
  • If you don’t know an answer. DON’T make one up
  • It’s not about telling me how hard you work

What I Learned

Lots about…

  • my people
  • the real deal
  • what I must do next
  • the team appreciates this kind of development
  • Ideas from other leaders about building powerful presentations

if you are an executive, take the time to teach your team to build powerful presentations. They will be nervous, it will be a stretch, they will work extra hours and leave frustrated and invigorated.

They will thank you.

December 2021 Update

If you’re reading this article on powerful presentations,  you’ve found one of my early posts, written when I was still an executive at Verizon. In case you’re curious, you can read more about why I decided to leave my day job to pursue growing leaders, here.How to have more confidence speaking to executives

If you are working to help your team get better at executive presentations, I’m including a few additional articles that will help.

How to Have More Confidence When Presenting to Executives

The Main Reasons People Don’t Speak Up at Work (Fast Company)



Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today?


  1. Mauro Turrisi

    You hit the nail on the head. The fact that you and your directors have invested time at the analyst level is key to developing future leaders. Teaching these skills early in their careers so they don’t need to make the same mistakes.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Mauro, thanks so much for joining the conversation. Great to see you here. It was fun to have people in so many different roles working through this together.

  2. Steve Borek

    They say using pictures is the way to go vs. text.

    Most important, what do you want the audience to feel when the presentation is over.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Steve, agreed… if they are the right visuals. We found some cutey visuals made things distracting.

  3. Tim

    The best presentations tell a story, and the audience is able to walk away with a message. Often in an operations review, the audience already knows the numbers, and they want to hear the story of how the numbers got there and where they are going. I agree, less is more, and it is more about what the presenter says than what is on the slide. However, not knowing how to answer a question on what is on the slide can derail the story. Knowledge of your business is essential. Then focus on the story line, and the message you want to deliver. Lastely, know when to position your requests from the audience.

  4. Jamie

    This is wonderful! My favorite part is sharing your inside voice! Sharing your inside voice is a huge win. This allows the audience to trust you and not worry about your inner thoughts.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Jamie, great to have you hear. Ahh, yes, the transparency of the inside voice. I believe in that as a teaching tool. I also want to hear the “inside voices” of others. That creates dialogue richer conversation.

  5. Anonymous

    This is a wonderful, developmental tool that all executives should use. This “Workshop” type of Operations review is great for developing not only leaders in the workplace, also leaders in the home. I bet individuals that go through this type of training have a greater home life communication and are better equipped to readout about issues at hand. I see, as being a part of this type of development, a greater leader in myself and that helps me to build on a 15 year foundation with a company that I have never had to do a readout before. There is nothing like a loving, constructive, and investmental operations review, thank you for the blog.

  6. letsgrowleaders

    Great to have your comment. Hmmm… hadn’t thought about the home life application. Interesting…thanks for adding that.


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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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