Have you ever given a roadmap presentation that felt more like an interrogation? I know that many product managers have experienced this. The executive team demands to see your slides in advance. By the time your meeting comes around, you are not really doing much presenting — everyone has seen the deck already. You are mostly fielding a barrage of questions under what feels like a massive microscope.
Now, not every company is this controlling. But you can bet that nearly every executive wants presentations that get to the point — no delays, no wasted time.
As a product manager, it is up to you to pull together the right views and content to convey your message. These executive-level presentations will look a whole lot different than what you share with your product or sales teams, when you are likely digging into the details of the upcoming work.
Executives need a high-level view — roadmaps that show product vision, key initiatives, and timelines for major bodies of work. And they want to see how your product aligns with the overall business goals.
I know this can be intimidating at first. Most executives are short on time yet deeply passionate and invested in the success of the product and business. It leaves you with a tough challenge — present your roadmap in a way that is both thorough and concise.
Oxymoron? Impossible task? Not quite. You just need to know how to approach it. Do your best to figure out how to present the big picture and supporting plans with confidence. Practice. And then get right to it.
Here is how to present your product roadmap to the executive team:
If possible, meet with a key stakeholder before the presentation — or even before you create your slides. Share your big ideas and product plans, and then ask for feedback on what can be improved. Equally as important, they can share if your plans are aligned (or not) with their own priorities for the organization. If you are unable to get this feedback, you should still think through how your plans will level up to the company’s larger goals. Highlight this in your presentation.
One of the most important aspects of any presentation is predicting what people really care about — what will be supported and what will be controversial. Prepare for this by thinking through many different approaches to solving challenges and presenting your ideas. Think about who might try to dismantle your ideas and why. (Ideally, you already did this when you put together your plans in the first place.) Knowing each angle makes it much easier to say, “Yes, I thought about that — but here are the tradeoffs and this is why I think this is the best approach.”
Once you go into the presentation, you need to be prepared to talk about anything related to your product. You should anticipate questions. “How did you get these numbers?” “How does this new functionality work?” Arm yourself with this knowledge beforehand by going through your slides and writing down every possible question you think the team could ask. Then think through how you can best answer the questions — whether it is pulling product usage analytics in advance or preparing an additional visual report and putting it in an appendix.
You will need to expect and adapt to interruptions. And you can bet that a room of executives will jump in often. “Can you go to that first slide?” “Tell me more about that functionality.” “Let’s focus on what is planned for mobile.” If this kind of agility does not come naturally to you, practice it. Give a trial-run to a trusted co-worker or your boss and have them play the role of the executive team — interrupting with questions and comments. (That list of questions you created should be helpful here.)
Keep the presentation simple and visual. Reduce the amount of text on the slides so you are using the fewest words possible to convey the message. This is the best way to quickly and clearly communicate your plans. Obviously, beautiful roadmaps should be the cornerstone of your presentation. But you should also consider other graphic elements that will help executives truly see your plans — like a product mockup of a new feature.
Repeat after me: I will not read from the slides. No one wants to sit and stare at the back of your head as you read the slides from the screen on the wall behind you. I know it can be nerve-wracking to go “off script,” but do your best to treat the presentation as talking points for a back-and-forth conversation. Keep your tone conversational and pause often to ask for thoughts and feedback. If the room is silent, try to call out any reactions you saw when you showed off the plan. Did someone raise their eyebrows or smile? You can, respectfully, ask them to share what prompted their reaction.
Stay calm, no matter what happens. Executive presentations are no place to create excited drama, and yet you might feel some of this starting to brew. Some people like to be the loudest person in the room, others like to argue for the sake of arguing, and others simply have bad ideas. You cannot control people — but you can control your own actions. So listen intently and add your perspective when it makes sense. If you need more time for a thoughtful response, say you will look into the issue further after the meeting.
Executives expect you to know your product better than anyone. And they expect you to be prepared and advocate for your customers and the business.
So present your plans in a way that shows your product, market, and customer mastery. Remember that everyone in the room ultimately shares the same goal — to deliver value to the customers and the company. Be confident that your work is part of this.
And even better, show that value every chance you get.
What additional tips should we add for presenting to executives?
The road to building better product starts here.