How do meetings with senior management usually go?

What the topic says. Not just where you are presenting, but other people’s meetings that you happen to be listening in on, like colleagues.
This question is more about large meetings, or at least where there are more than just 2 people.

Senior management meaning chief actuaries/ heads of large groups.

For example,
Is it more adversarial or collaborative in tone?
Do they find and mention points of agreement? And ask for more detail regarding the points of the presentation?
Delve into and ask about a tiny detail within the scope but not part of the points of the presentation?
Do they seem focused on finding small areas to disagree with in the presentation? Ask and expect answers for items outside the scope?
How often do they compliment the presenter on something? (And how many times on average during the meeting)
How often do they criticize (and how many times on average)?
Do they ever straight out insult the presenter (as in, a criticism that is about the person instead of the work)? And how?

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It depends on the senior manager.

One thing they have in common is being fairly efficient, though. I think you don’t get to be senior management if you waste a lot of time on digressions during presentations.

My experiences have been neither “collaborative” nor adversarial. I have done something for them, we didn’t do it together. They are usually interested in the results of what they asked for, and appreciative. Yes, they usually thank the presenters, typically at the end of the presentation. Yes, they usually have questions. Sometimes the result is that they make a new ask – i don’t consider that “out of scope” as much as just a new request with a new scope.

I am usually delivering information, not requesting changes. “Here’s my central estimate of reserves”, not “I think you should do this.” Implicitly, I am asking the chief actuary to adopt my estimate as his, but he hasn’t done the work and isn’t going to suggest anything other than small tweaks. If I can’t make him comfortable with my work, I haven’t done my job.

If my goal were to suggest changes in how the business is run I would expect meeting to be somewhat different.

I’m going to pull this out.

If you give info, you have to use the pyramid approach – namely, what’s most important? Generally, they don’t want a chronological narrative, with itty-bitty details, etc.

You start with the bottomline/most important point, or handful of points.

They may ask for detail, but you start at the biggest/most important, etc.

One of my best experiences re: meeting with top management was the CEO calling me out for not communicating in that point. It wasn’t personal - it was excellent advice and just letting me know to stop doing the chrono development of how I got the result, just tell the result, and major sub-results, and then we may get into the details if he really wants to delve into that.

It’s about what they need to know, not what you want to say.

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I think this will really vary according to the people involved and the nature of the meeting.

You have to read the room a little, I think. Bill Gates would pretty famously attack any proposal as “the stupidest idea he had ever heard”, and expect the proposer to argue back with him. This is probably the exception though.

To echo the early points, I think the hardest thing about presenting to an audience like that is coming to terms that they don’t really care about all the details of the hard work you had to do for the answer. They just want the answer. Very rarely will they care about the same issues and subtleties you do.

This gets into whether you are making an experience argument, or a professional recommendation.

Sometimes we have to give an expert argument to our colleagues. They will have overlapping expertise, and the argument will be decided on strength of evidence. More evidence is better. Showing how your tests could have disproven your approaches is good. Explaining why other approaches were not as appropriate is also good.

Other times we give expert opinions or recommendations to clients. The emphasis is different. They may need to know why something is true, but usually not all the reasons the other possibilities are not true. Ultimately they will be convinced based in your credibility with them, and the verisimilitude of your argument, not it’s rigor. (Rigor is still important, just usually not for that presentation.)

Some of the rigor and evidence can be tucked into the appendix. Then, if they ask, you have the exhibit handy. And if they don’t, it doesn’t take any time from the rest of the presentation.

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Life lesson.

I think it depends on the group and the material being presented. We have to present quite a bit of things to doctors. They seem to like to be the smartest person in the room and ask for all sorts of non-sensical busy work. If the actuarial bosses are present, they push back and explain how it is non-sensical. The actuarial bosses ask a lot of detailed questions but don’t really want that presented to them. They just seem to want to be assured that you did your due diligence. The more you give them up front, the more detailed questions they will ask about how you did something.

I’ve seen plenty of criticism over the years but all in good faith based upon opposing views. I’ve never seen a big boss straight out insult someone.

My meetings with senior management these days give me the distinct impression that they are trying to find issues with the analysis, whether big (understandable) or tiny (who knows why). Also they feel very comfortable criticizing people in public. Maybe it’s an effective management technique? I always was told this wasn’t. Maybe it’s just them trying to prove they are the smartest in the room like the commenter above says (never mind that when they say something with an obvious error, we have to couch responses in much more general, vague, and polite terms, if we mention it at all.)

  • Is it more adversarial or collaborative in tone?

Depends on the content. If it’s a readout of results from a program or financials or something typically collaborative with some questions trying to gain understanding. If it’s a proposal for something new, typically more “adversarial” but usually in the sense of “have you thought about this?” Or “what about this scenario” type of questions where they are trying to poke holes in it to find the risks.

  • Do they find and mention points of agreement? And ask for more detail regarding the points of the presentation?

Agreement isn’t usually stated throughout. Sometimes at the end. Details can be asked about, but it’s usually not technical related. They assume your boss has approved and reviewed all the technical components before reaching them.

  • Delve into and ask about a tiny detail within the scope but not part of the points of the presentation?

Possible if they feel something is important / a potential risk.

  • Do they seem focused on finding small areas to disagree with in the presentation? Ask and expect answers for items outside the scope?

See above for trying to poke holes in things that are recommendations on paths to move forward. Less about finding something to disagree with and more about finding and discussing all risks to make sure decisions are made with eyes wide open

  • How often do they compliment the presenter on something? (And how many times on average during the meeting)

Maybe a “thanks” at the end. It’d be rare to compliment more than that

  • How often do they criticize (and how many times on average)?

The person - very rare. If they think it’s a bad idea they may criticize the idea itself.

  • Do they ever straight out insult the presenter (as in, a criticism that is about the person instead of the work)? And how?

Rare.

A lot of these can change based on the culture of your workplace too. Toxic workplaces with direct insulting of people are places to run from. But don’t equate criticizing ideas or poking holes in your analysis with insulting you. Senior leadership that silently accepts everything and doesn’t ever push back on ideas or try to find weaknesses in proposals are not going to help you grow either.

I’ve also noticed that the lower level you are when giving the presentation the more likely kid gloves are used for criticism. Meetings with only senior leadership in them can be very vocal about disagreeing with each other’s ideas / raising concerns about paths forward.

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I think this question is situation specific, so general answers are not likely to be useful. My only generic advice is to be as prepared as you can be on the facts and details. That will hopefully shine through during any Q&A.

Like everything else, i think this varies with the senior manager. The one I’ve presented to most in the past couple of years usually makes a point of saying (briefly) what he liked about a presentation at the end of it. And once he commented in the middle that he appreciated a pair of brutally honest slides I’d included. (“We’ve missed the mark.”)

Other managers have just said “thanks” at the end. I do think that’s fairly common, it’s sort of a clean way to announce that the meeting is wrapping up.

I once presented regularly to a senior manager who criticized all sorts of irrelevant stuff, and put people down at giant meetings. That was a toxic manager and I’m glad not to work with her any more.