Is your next important presentation a match with the executive you want to persuade? Your answer may make a bottom line difference to your business, according to the results of a 2-year study by the research firm Miller-Williams.

“More than 50% of presentations to executives are a mismatch to the decision-making style of the executive,” said Bob Williams, chairman of Miller-Williams and co-author of the upcoming book Paths to Persuasion: How to Influence the Five Styles of Today's Decision Makers (Warner Books, 2004). So if you've lost business because you didn't get the executive decision you wanted, “it's probably not because of your content, but because of the way it was presented.”

The Miller-Williams study interviewed 1,684 executives across a broad range of professions in upper middle management and above. The results identified a fundamental change in traditional communications roles between presenters and executive audiences.

“Today, the roles have shifted,” Miller said. In the past a presenter may have had more information than the executive, but in the age of the Internet, “an executive probably knows as much about your product as you, and probably more about your competitor.”

Since executives no longer rely on presenters as primary sources of information, the burden has shifted to presenters to prove they offer something of value to justify getting an executive's time. “You have the privilege of being in front of executives,” said Miller. “You get one shot. You need to know what they're thinking--their challenges and issues. It's not about your product.”

For many presenters, this means a major shift in mindset from a template presentation centered around their own company's products and services, to a customized presentation centered around their audience's challenges and issues. “The key take-away here is that it's not about you; it's about them,” Miller said.

It also means a shift away from presenters expressing their individual style of communicating, to adapting individual presentations to the audience's style of decision-making. “It's not the way I like to present; it's the way the decision-maker wants to see the information,” he said. “If you're not doing this, you're losing the other side of the desk.”

The Miller-Williams study identified five distinctive executive decision-making styles that they labeled charismatic, thinker, skeptic, follower and controller. Each decision-making style processes information in different ways, and demands a different strategy from the presenter.

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Cliff Atkinson is an author, speaker, and consultant who translates complex ideas into communications that get results at He is the author of the bestselling Beyond Bullet Points, published in four editions by Microsoft Press.

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