Executive Level Communication Strategy

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When you have the opportunity to present to the C-suite or when you find yourself in a meeting with upper management, a different sort of communication is required.
Practice this strategy ahead of time so that you will be comfortable speaking this way when you are with senior leadership.

Context is Key

Know what matters.  What is important to the executive you’re addressing? What is important to the entire executive team? What is most important to the situation? What is the context into which you will be speaking? What are they grappling with or what problem are they solving? You aren’t walking into an empty room with a clean canvas that awaits your paint…you are walking into a vibrant, often noisy, messy full blown orchestra rehearsal, with every instrument being tuned for the next big performance. Prepare your comments in the context of the culture or situation you’re walking into.  What matters most to them?  Think about them, not about you and your content.

Bottom Line Headline

Start with the end in mind.  I think Stephen Covey said that. Basically, get to the point first. Think about what your main point is that you wish to get across, and formulate a concise headline.  What’s the bottom line?  Start there. If the executive wants or needs more data or relevant supports for the main point, you’ll have it available to share, but don’t make the common mistake of building your case, stacking up your carefully thought out outline of points and then planting the flag of your main point at the end like the cherry on the sundae.  That’s akin to wasting the executive’s time. Get to the point first, fast, and with conviction. State your point. Save your case.

Read the Room

Now use your powers of observation.  Read the room. Read your audience.  Did your message land? Did it resonate? Did they hear you? Did they understand you? Do they understand the context? Do they need more content? Seek before you speak to identify if they need more information.  If so, build your case with no more than 3-5 supporting points.  Be sure to state them concisely and with ownership.

Make The Case

If in fact your ultimate point requires more support to achieve the impact or influence you intend, make the case in a very organized and concise way. But again, context matters.  Make the case in the context of the most important business according to your leadership…what matters to them may be different than what you think matters most. Check it out and align your conversation. Don’t share all the data you curated during your preparation. Unless they ask for it.  If they ask for details, give details, but don’t launch into the details without a clear request from the leadership for more explanation. These are people who are used to making high-stakes decisions without having all the information, so don’t assume they need it the same way you do.

Keep it Short & Simple

Don’t try to impress with big words or lofty concepts. Don’t try to prove you’re knowledgeable, smart, an expert, or whatever you’re trying to prove about yourself. It’s not about you. Speak directly, concisely, and make your point in the context of what your audience or leadership cares about. Be brief, be clear, be specific, and be relevant.
I like the 8 points of executive level communication in this blog by my colleague, Patty Azzarello:

  1.  Outside vs. Inside
  2. Short vs. Long
  3. Meaning vs. Detail
  4. Outcome vs. Activity
  5. Plain Speak vs. Jargon
  6. Story vs. Status
  7. Proposing vs. Reporting
  8. Calm vs. DefensiveRead her descriptions at the link above.

And if you want a book to help you really nail your “signature voice” as an executive level communicator, I highly recommend Own the Room by Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins.

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