Let’s say you have a great idea that you want to pitch to a senior leader at your company. The first hurdle to getting that idea in front of your chosen audience? Time.
To give you an idea of how busy the senior management at your business likely is, take a look at their calendars. You’ll probably see meeting after meeting—even past 5 p.m.—with few, if any, breaks. This is why you have to be organized and prepared when you finally do secure a few minutes to chat with a senior leader. Time is truly of the essence.
And while most advice will tell you to simply be confident, that’s not enough to get the results you want. The truth is, senior management and executives likely only want to hear ideas that are of high value to the company. When meeting with employees, they don’t want to get too into the weeds. They want impactful and high-level overviews.
With that in mind, here’s how to communicate with senior management to get your ideas the attention they deserve.
Why it’s important to communicate effectively
When you’re communicating with executives, there’s no time to waste—as evidenced by their packed calendar. Effective communication is the process of exchanging ideas, thoughts, knowledge, and information so that the purpose of your message is fulfilled in the best possible manner. Clear, compelling communication results in a connection between speaker and audience that drives understanding and interest.
Effective communication highlights a message that is:
- Clear–What you say needs to be easily understood.
- Correct–Your message should be factually accurate.
- Complete–Your message needs to give the entire picture, not just the part most relevant to your motive
- Precise–Brevity is the soul of business communication. Keep it short and to the point.
- Reliable–You need to establish some form of ethos to build trust with your audience.
- Empathetic–You need to demonstrate that you understand the pain points of your audience.
When you ignore any of these traits of effective communication, you risk losing your audience. You know exactly what that means because you’ve sat through your fair share of meetings without actually listening to what’s being said. Being in the same room as someone talking isn’t the same thing as effectively communicating.
The bottom line is that effective executive communication means your audience will listen to you, understand your message, seek to understand your viewpoint, and be more likely to buy in to whatever you’re proposing. It goes way beyond just having confidence: this is having a communication strategy.
Tips for how to communicate effectively with senior management
It’s important to understand your audience. Senior management always has the larger organization in mind. Think of the business as a ship. Senior management is the captain of the ship. Leaders monitor the direction the ship is traveling and consider the best route to take while avoiding things like icebergs and pirates. You may be the chef on that ship, and making sure the crew is fed is a vital role, but the captain doesn’t want to hear about your struggles with lobster stroganoff. The captain only wants to know how to protect the ship and get it to its destination the fastest.
Similarly, your senior management doesn’t want to hear about your day-to-day struggles. Instead, they want to hear ideas about how to build business value, improve culture, remain competitive, and strengthen their position in the market. Use empathy to understand what senior management actually cares about and then speak to those pain points.
Imagine being a graphic artist and trying to explain your work instead of just showing it. Not only would your audience quickly become confused, but your work would also be dismissed. Similarly, when you’re trying to gain buy-in from senior management for an idea, it’s most effective to not only tell your ideas, but to show them. Visuals fill in communication gaps and organize your thoughts in a cohesive manner.
Remember, too, that it’s highly likely one member of your audience will be a visual learner and will be greatly helped by seeing a visual representation of your presentation.
Some examples of visuals to incorporate into your communication with senior management include:
- Venn diagrams
Business decisions need to be backed up with facts and data. While you may feel strongly about a particular business decision, feelings don’t commonly enter into strategic choices. Executives will be much better swayed by data because it lessens the risk of a decision. When you communicate with senior management, use data and solid references to bolster your argument. It’s like defending your idea in court. You’re a lawyer that needs to sway the jury to your side.
Get to the point
There’s no surer way of losing your audience’s interest than by wasting their time. If you don’t state the purpose of your communication and quickly show its ramifications, there’s a good chance you’ll lose the attention of your audience. Great executive communication is clear, concise, and doesn’t waste anyone’s time.
Start your conversation by stating your final objective and then previewing the organization of your presentation. This is not a murder mystery novel, so don’t keep your audience guessing. Tell them what you’re hoping to communicate, explain how you will make your argument, and then develop your proof points.
Don’t read from a deck of slides
Think back to every boring meeting you’ve ever attended. Chances are, they involved someone just reading the slides being projected. That’s a horrible strategy. It insults the intelligence of your audience, wastes time, and demands the audience listen to you and read at the same time.
The correct way to present a deck of slides is to show data that backs up what you’re saying. Keep the text to a minimum. For instance, if you’re talking about customer satisfaction, you might present a screenshot of the latest customer feedback ratings and then dissect those ratings and explain your strategy to improve the ratings.
When presenting slides, use bulletpoints and headings to organize your thoughts. Think of your slideshow as the college notes version of your presentation. Focus on the most important things so they’ll stand out more to senior management
Prepare for the worst
You’ll likely feel anxious before you present to senior management. That’s totally normal. A smart strategy for handling the “what ifs” racing through your brain is to have a strategy in place for handling the worst possible outcome. How will you handle objections to your plan? How will you handle criticisms? If possible, enlist one of your friends to pretend to be a senior executive while you practice your presentation. Ask them to be as brutal as possible. That way, you’ll know how to handle even the worst scenario.
Don’t underestimate how important practice is. Not only does practice help you feel more prepared, it will also help you streamline and elevate your presentation. Practicing what you’ll say helps you avoid uncomfortable silences, panic, and feeling unprepared.
Communicating with senior management can feel intimidating, but it’s really just a matter of being prepared and using empathy to understand how your ideas will make executives’ lives easier. Utse effective communication, practice, and have an army of data ready to back you up. With that kind of preparation, you’re sure to impress upper management and have them ready to buy in to whatever idea or strategy you’re presenting.
Find out how you can use data-driven storytelling to communicate your ideas effectively to senior leadership.