Always: Make your first line your bottom line by telling the executives, in a nutshell, what you are proposing, why you're proposing it, and exactly what you want from them: Funding? Support for an organizational change? Product approval? Executives are short on time. They want you to get right to the point.
Live by the 10/30 rule: If you are scheduled for 30 minutes, prepare just 10 minutes of material. Expect to spend 20 minutes on questions and comments. In other words, be prepared for a discussion, not a slide-driven lecture. That means slashing the number of slides to two or three (or even zero). That said, you still want detailed backup slides on hand in case a data dive is necessary.
Sometimes you need to get your head in the right place before starting your meeting. You don't want to go into the boardroom looking for a pat on the back. Don't feel the need to impress. Senior executives do not want to hear about all the hard work you and your team did to get the data. They want to be told what the data means relative to your proposal and their decision-making process and, most important, to the success of the company.
Never get defensive or argumentative. Being passionate about a project or idea is good, but your demeanor should always be calm and open to input.
Also, never let the meeting spiral out of control. If the board strays too far from the point or, worse, starts arguing with each other, calmly bring the discussion back on track. And never forget to check and recheck your numbers before your presentation. CEOs can often do math on the fly. If your numbers are wrong, you're dead in the water.
Rick Gilbert founded PowerSpeaking in 1985 after holding management positions with Hewlett-Packard and Amdahl. In addition to training, he does executive coaching and keynote speaking.