Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

How to Present to the Senior Executive Service


The time has come. You have spent months preparing. Instead of reading the same old white paper, your manager has asked you to create a PowerPoint presentation for her, the undersecretary, and a whole slew of Senior Executive Service (SES) members. You know that this presentation will not only impact your career and reputation within the department, it will also influence your department’s policy stance. Despite the knots in your stomach, your team spent months researching and building the case. You know that all the evidence and work is there, now you just need to present it.

Unlike giving a presentation in the private sector, where a good presentation will rally senior executives behind a cost saving or profit-maximizing venture, public sector employees need to make the case for a sound economic investment and a mission critical achievement. As a federal employee, when you give a presentation you are presenting a case to the SES for a high stake decision that not only impacts your department, but the American public as well. If the SES is the head of your organization, then your presentation should be the neck that turns them. All you need is to give a compelling presentation of your department’s hard work, here’s how, building off a piece by Nancy Duarte in the Harvard Business Review:

Make your shtick under an hour: Even an hour-long presentation is pushing it, but ensure that you go through your presentation to cut out extra pieces that are unnecessary. We’ve all been in presentations where our eyes start to glaze because the presenter seemed to transition from oratory to rambling. 

Give a roadmap: Set expectations for how long the presentation will go and that your audience will have ample time for questions. There is nothing worse than being in the audience right before lunch with no clue as to how long your stomach will be grumbling. Which is another important point to consider, if you have control over the meeting time, do it well before or well after lunch.

Anticipate the questions: Before you step into the lion’s den, you need to anticipate what kind of questions your audience will ask. I assure you, the one thing that you don’t know how to answer will be the one thing your audience wants to know. That being said, the ratio of presentation to Q&A should be 1:2. The SES is an important and impatient crowd, their time is valuable. Make more time for their questions than your own presentation.

Bring your “Aha” moment to the front: You’ve spent months on research and preparation, and you want to end the presentation with a big finish. “In summary, we suggest…!” Although that approach is good in theory, surprises aren’t effective in practice. If you blow them away right up front, it will spur questions in their mind and they will be eagerly listening to your presentation for answers.

Rehearse: You’re a seasoned professional with 15 years of experience; you don’t need to rehearse, right? Wrong! The most articulate and persuasive orators rehearse their speeches and anticipate questions from the audience. The idea that you can be a natural public speaker is overblown and simply not true. Get ahead of the curve, and rehearse your presentation.

This may sound like a lot of work but believe me, if your presentation doesn’t follow these steps it is likely you will be interrupted before you even finish.

Do you have any advice for giving a great presentation?

(Image via Razihusin/


Dana Grinshpan is the Research Manager for the Government Business Council (GBC), the research division of Government Executive, where she specializes in primary research development and survey instrument creation. Prior to joining GBC, she worked for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), assisting in the research and writing of work on South Asian regional cooperation. She has a Master of Arts in international security and political economics from the University of Chicago and graduated magna cum laude from Ohio State University where she holds a B.A. in international studies with a minor in Arabic.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.