Six Ways To Communicate With The C-Suite, Part 1

I recently received a request from my boss, who is a vice president, to attend her boss' direct reports meeting. She had a litany of rules for me. I had to show up 15 minutes early. No laptop or cell phone was allowed. I was only to enter the room when the executive assistant gave me the cue, and I was directed to sit in one of the empty chairs along the wall—not at the table.

While my portion of the meeting went well, there was a feeling that transpired throughout the room that I had not yet experienced. The level of attention and the focus was intense and efficient. No one had to tell me there was no time to waste; it was obvious. I knew it was an important opportunity for me, but at the time, I didn't realize how unprepared I was for it.

As you grow in your career and are exposed to more opportunities, you'll likely have the chance to interact with higher-level roles, and it's important to understand how to be seen and heard by those senior-level managers most effectively. Lea McLeod, career consultant, speaker and author of The Resume Coloring Book, suggests the following six tips for communicating with executives, so that you can start preparing for that higher-level interaction.

1. They fly at a different altitude. To have the most meaningful conversations, you have to understand your audience. Executives see across the entire organization (or industry) and connect the dots from top to bottom. So, to connect most effectively with them, you'll need to understand how your topic of conversation fits into their worldview.

To practice this, take a complex customer you're working with and practice presenting an update about your work with them. You're deeply involved in the day-to-day details of what the customer needs, but when you're speaking with an executive, you shouldn't focus on the day-to-day details. Instead, you'll want to talk about the total revenue they generate, the margin contribution and your strategy to grow their business; the bigger picture.

2. They get to the point. Senior-level managers know how to quickly dive into an agenda item, dissect it and ask direct questions to evaluate it. They typically don't need a lot of background information to ramp up to the point of conversation. They'll drive the presentation; if they have questions or need more background information, they'll ask.

It is a good idea to anticipate questions for discussion and to prepare responses in advance. If you're not sure what they'll want, ask clarifying questions (e.g. "So, what you want to know is how I plan to fund the project?") so you don't waste time providing the wrong information.

3. They want to know you believe in what you're saying. Conviction about what you say to an executive is just as important as the message itself. It's important to own your content and share it with conviction. They want to know that if they're going out on a limb to back your proposal, you are not going to fold. To make an impact on executives, you must truly believe in what you are saying and that it's the right solution for the organization.

Ready for more tips for C-suite communication? Read tomorrow's edition of PCT.

Source: Lea McLeod coaches people in their jobs during stressful situations: unfit employers, challenging colleagues and self-sabotaging that keeps you working too long. McLeod is the founder of the Job Success Lab and the author of The Resume Coloring Book. She also offers a complimentary web series, "21 Days to Peace at Work." Book one-on-one coaching sessions with McLeod on The Muse's Coach Connect.

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