Four critical questions when preparing to communicate with executives

1 Feb 2022

Communicating with executives may not be part of your everyday work, but it is something you should know how to do. You never know when you might be called on to present to a senior leader.

If you are preparing to communicate with executives, here are four things you need to define

  1. What is the purpose of the communication?
  2. Which destination verb or verbs best describes your purpose?
  3. What one point do you want to make?
  4. How does your topic impact the executive?

Define these four things and you’ll have the basis for valuable, relevant executive communication.

What is the purpose of the communication?

Every presentation has a point, it has a purpose. The reason you stand up and speak is to make something happen. Maybe you need the executive to make a decision, take action, or give approval for an idea.

If you are responding to a request for information, the purpose may be set by the executive. In this case it is equally important that you know and understand the purpose. If the information you share doesn’t directly support the purpose you are wasting time.

One way to identify the purpose is to complete this sentence: ‘I am telling you this because I want…’. Whatever you say to complete the sentence should be the most important outcome you want for the communication.

Which destination verb or verbs best describes your purpose?

Having identified the purpose of the conversation you need to define the outcome. What is the ideal destination for the communication?

Using a destination verb helps focus the discussion on achieving a specific outcome. They show where you need to get to in the conversation.

For example, don’t tell an executive you want to discuss options. Discussions can go on forever. How do you know when the discussion has reached a satisfactory end? Instead, say you need to decide which option to use. The destination verb is ‘decide’ and it provides a concrete end point. Everyone knows when something is decided.

Read more about destination verbs in Ann Latham’s fantastic book The Power of Clarity.

How does your topic impact the executive?

If something impacts us, it is relevant to us. We pay more attention to relevant topics. Impact is relevant if it affects us personally or something we care about.

Executives care about lots of things. Fortunately, there are some clear categories you can use to evaluate the impact of your topic. If your topic requires effort from the executive or from resources they manage, that is an important impact. And if your topic results in an outcome the executive cares about then it impacts them. Outcomes are usually group by financial outcome, time outcomes, quality, compliance, and safety outcomes. Everything that happens at work connects to one of these outcomes.

What ONE point do you want to make?

When preparing to talk to an executive make sure you know the point you want to make. Every presentation and pitch have a point. Not multiple points, that is distracting and often leads to confusion. There should be one single point for the communication.

A point is not ‘Next year’s strategy’ or ‘Project status update’. Those are themes, they are not points. A point is unique. It is something you can propose, argue, defend, illustrate and prove. A point has clear value and purpose. When you talk to an executive you need to know your point.

Read more about making good points in Joel Schwartzberg’s book, Get to the Point.


Give your best performance by answering these four questions when preparing to communicate with executives. Your message will be clearer, shorter, and more likely to make an impact.

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