At some point it will happen: You’ll be invited to your first executive or board meeting to provide an update on your team’s initiatives and it’s important for you to be prepared to seize this golden reputation building opportunity.

While you are comfortable that your communication skills and your knowledge of your team’s activities will help you navigate any executive grilling, this opportunity is too valuable to leave to chance.  A bit of investigation and advance preparation will help ensure that you ace this interview. (And yes, every time you are on-stage in front of the executives it’s an interview!)

10 Tips to Help You Prepare for and Succeed in Your First Executive Briefing

1. Learn About the Meeting Environment Ahead of Time. Talk with your boss and other colleagues who have been through similar experiences and ask about the meeting environment and flow. Are these typically formal settings with presentation visuals and handouts, or, are they more off-the-cuff. Are they one-way presentations or, can you expect a healthy question and answer component? Are the meetings serious or relaxed?

2. Confirm Expectations for Your Content. It may sound trite, but many a manager has been invited to his or her first executive briefing with vague instructions on what to cover. You owe it to yourself, your team and your boss to make certain that everyone is crystal clear on the topics you will cover at the session. Measure twice, cut once.

3. Know Your Time Allotment and Build Accordingly. While the executives may decide to hold you longer than the planned-for time, you want to ensure that your messaging and supporting materials to fit within the allotted time. Plan, practice and prepare to hit your mark.

4. Strive to Avoid Inviting Air Strikes. The wrong or confusing images or data will invite a sudden barrage of questions and derail any plans you had to make a point. Pretest slides and messaging with your boss or a peer.

5. Map Your Message. The simple technique of message-mapping is one of the most powerful tools in your communications arsenal. Develop your message and supporting points, and use this tool to guide your briefing and to respond to questions. (See my post: “The Career Enhancing Benefits of Message Mapping”)

6. Resist the Urge to Share Everything You Know in One Meeting. While I’m exaggerating just a bit, nerves coupled with excitement about the opportunity can result in a sudden drive to share everything you know about everything as you strive to impress the executives. Rely on your message map.

7. Showcase Your Passion for Your Work. Your enthusiasm for the firm and for the work of your team serves as a powerful credibility builder. Turn on the energy when you hit the stage.

8. Don’t Dance Around the Big Issues. Not every briefing is intended to convey just good news. If there are problems, identify them, showcase actions and/or offer recommendations. Never raise a problem without a potential approach to offer in this setting (or any other).

9. Never Make Up an Answer. The pressure is intense, but taking a stab or offering a guess at a detailed question is a sure-fire credibility killer. “I don’t know, but I will find out and report back” is acceptable.

10. Know When to Go. It’s not uncommon to have your message derailed. If the CEO thanks you for the update and you’ve got 3 slides to go, you are well served to take the cue, ask if there are any other questions, review the items you committed to follow-up with, and thank everyone for their time.

The Bottom-Line for Now

The best outcome of your first invitation at an executive briefing is your second invitation. The audience is hungry for ideas and insights on strengthening the business and anxious to hear from managers who care. Nonetheless, there’s an expectation that when you are in front of this group, you’ve done your homework, have clear points to make and can field the questions and stand your ground. In this situation, preparation is priceless.

This blog originally appeared at

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