How to Communicate with C-Level Executives

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We spoke to author of Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations Rick Gilbert in an interview for Twine Talk Workplace Communications Podcast.

The book starts with the observation that giving presentations to executives is not the same as giving other types of presentation or public talking opportunity. You may think that public speaking skills are only for people who give large-scale presentations, but if you think about it, every time you talk in public you are public speaking. By definition, you are public speaking every time that you open your mouth in a meeting at work.

But the type of meeting that you are talking in makes a large difference to the degree of depth you should give those to whom you are speaking. The key observation made by Gilbert is this: communication at the C-level differs vastly from communication to other mid-level managers or team members.

C-Level Executives Don’t Want the Smalltalk

Executives don’t want to be asked how the family are or how the vacation was. They don’t want to ask you about yours either. Save the small talk for the others in your office with whom you have a daily working relationship. The difference here, is that a C-level executive cannot afford to invest in anything other than bare bones relationships with the majority of their staff.

Why? Mostly that is because there are lots of you and only one of them!

Communication Should Be Clear and Direct

Make sure that you know what the meeting is about, what you are going to be asked, and what you need to prepare. If you go in to talk to a board of executives and do not have to hand the data that they might want to see or talk about you are not going to win any respect. In fact, if you frustrate them and cause them to delay their decision-making process you will probably find yourself in the firing line.

Executives Control the Meeting

Gilbert made it very clear that when you meet with executives it’s not about you, and you are not in control. You can have this whole speech and deck of slides prepared and the chances are that they will totally derail you or not be interested in half of it. Don’t worry about that and don’t let it phase you. Not getting through your prepared material is not necessarily a bad sign. In fact, it could be a good sign if they got what they needed from you in the first five minutes and then send you on your way.

You are there to provide the information that they need, and nothing more.

Slide Decks Should Be Lean

According to Gilbert, when giving presentations to team members or even in large-scale public speaking events slide decks can be elaborate and go into depth on a concept. When you communicate with c-level executives you want to keep the deck minimal if it exists at all. Think of the least possible slides that you can use to illustrate the data that you want to give.

-Tabitha Farrar

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