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5 fundamentals for presenting to executive teams about the future

By Ross Dawson

This year I am very frequently speaking to top executive teams about the future of business. These presentations are often scheduled during strategy offsites or as part of leadership development programs. Sometimes these are full-day workshops; more often I have 45-90 minutes to work with.

My objective is to stimulate executives to think beyond the everyday, get new ideas, and develop an optimistic mindset about the challenges and opportunities afforded by the extraordinary pace of change today. Many clients want their executives to take the attitude of Embracing the Future, one of my most popular speaking topics.

Given the brief time I often have to create lasting energy and initiatives, these are some of the approaches I find most effective.

Use industry and in-house examples. During my briefing I uncover situations and stories that are currently most discussed in the organization. I always use industry examples but it is also valuable to identify issues that executives can recognize as their own.

Create participation. I often structure my time into two or three brief presentations, each followed by custom-prepared discussion topics or case studies. Engaging with key questions during the session makes it far more likely that those conversations will continue.

Balance awe and inspiration. These days it is easy to blow people away describing the extraordinary things that are happening in domains such as online sharing, genomics, robotics, and augmented reality. It is good to help people understand quite how fast things are changing, however that can easily become daunting. The emphasis must be on the actions that can create opportunities and build success.

Demonstrate that new thinking is necessary. Talk is cheap. Giving clear case studies of the how companies are successfully embracing new approaches helps to shift attitudes. In a recent session on the future of business I did for a corporate leadership group, real-life examples led to genuine discussion on how to change the organization.

Create an appetite for thinking about the future. There is massive value for organizations to think in a clear way about the future and how they can build their success. However for most companies their interest extends as far as hearing from a business futurist. It is important to help companies understand how they can build broader initiatives to drive long-term thinking and strategy.

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