There are a lot of reasons you may need to communicate with management and company executives throughout your career. For example, if you’re in tech, you might talk with them a fair amount to try and get buy-in on certain new technology and cybersecurity decisions.
In that situation, it’s important to know not just generally how to communicate with executives but what’s driving their decision-making at the C-level. For example, what do CEOs and CIOs prioritize? How can you speak their language?
As your career grows, you may have more opportunities to interact with people higher up in the company.
You may find that in doing so, the energy is different. There may be more efficiency and intensity in the communication you have with these people. If you want to not only make sure that your initiatives are being seen as valuable but perhaps also want to move your career upward, you need to know how to communicate with executives and be prepared for those interactions with higher-level people.
The following are tips to help you achieve those objectives.
Focus Your Conversation On Impact Instead of Progress
One of the most important things you can keep in mind when talking to upper management is to focus on outcomes. Don’t focus on the process to get there or the details. The higher the position of the person you’re speaking to, the less likely they will care about your methods.
You want to be addressing answers to the questions most important to your audience. They aren’t going to care about how you get there—just that you do.
If there are connections you need to emphasize, be clear and precise in making them.
If you’re an IT professional, for example, don’t talk so much about how you concluded that you need new technology to prevent a particular type of predominant attack. Instead, focus on the impact an unmitigated attack could have on the bottom line and reputation of the business.
Stick to Only What Matters
You don’t need to answer questions you aren’t being asked when you’re talking to executives. Your focus should be on making sure you’re giving only the facts and directly answering any questions you’re being asked.
Don’t use jargon, and keep things as to the point as you can manage—otherwise you’re going to fast lose the attention of your audience.
When you do answer any questions, along with being succinct, answer with confidence.
Think about the point of view of the person you’re speaking to as a way to figure out how to best direct and drive the conversation.
Too often, in an attempt to sound like you know things, you might add too much context to what you’re saying. It tends to end up having the opposite effect.
In general, a senior-level manager or executive will be someone who knows how to get to the point. They can take a larger item on the agenda, break it down, and ask direct, pointed questions as part of their evaluation.
They don’t necessarily need all of the background data to do this.
If someone does ask a question, and you aren’t sure what they’re getting at, get clarification rather than beating around the bush.
Be Prepared With Data and Logic
While you don’t need to jump in and lead with background data and how you came to certain conclusions, you do need to make sure that you are prepared with this information. If there is a flaw in your numbers, a senior-level manager or executive is very likely to find it.
If you have a big conversation or presentation coming up, you might want to have someone go over what you’re going to say first and see if they can find potential flaws in it so that you can address them.
In general, preparing for these conversations is important. Organize your information in bullet-point lists that you can refer to quickly. If you have details and sources, maybe you add them in a different section to easily be provided if needed. Make notes for yourself to be structured in the conversation or presentation.
When you’re using data as part of your communication with upper management, it needs to have a purpose. You need to make sure data shows your goals align with the priorities and vision of your audience.
Provide a Roadmap
When you’re presenting something to an executive, go ahead and outline what you’re going to be talking about with them. It gives them an idea of how to prepare for the conversation, and they’ll have some context for what will happen.
This is good because it can smooth out fears they might have about how long the conversation or presentation will take. Then, when they know what to expect, they’re more likely to focus on what you’re saying rather than thinking about what they have to do next.
Be Direct In Your Ask
You always want to be clear and direct on what you’re asking for, just like you should be with the rest of your questions. Be specific and make sure that you’re asking the right audience for whatever it is.
Finally, be human in how you speak and also empathetic. Even though you might be nervous and perhaps want a certain outcome, that doesn’t mean that you have to go overboard trying to sound too formal or like someone you aren’t. Senior executives and management are people too. They have busy days, and their communication style may be a little different, but overall they’re going to connect with you just like anyone else.
Don’t use business idioms that are cliche and have no meaning.
Every single word you use should have a significant meaning, and you want to leave a positive impression that indicates you know what you’re talking about you’ve done your research. The more you prepare and practice, the better off you’ll be.