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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.

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