Communicating with executives may not be part of your everyday work, but it is still something you should know how to do. You never know when you might be called on to present to a senior leader. And as you rise through the ranks your exposure to executive leaders will increase.
To help you ace your next executive communication, here are three things you might now know about communicating with executives:
- Executives don’t need a lot of detail.
- They care more about what something does than how it does it.
- Most executives prefer clarity over accuracy.
Even if you never expect to be in front of the CEO the tips on this page will help you. These tips work in many communication situations, not just those involving executives.
1. Executives don’t need a lot of detail
Executives make a lot of decisions. A common belief is they need a lot of information to be able to make these decisions. The thing is, executives don’t need a lot of information, they need the right information. A small amount of data presented in the right way is far more valuable than pages of detail.
When presenting to an executive you should focus on the specific pieces of information they want or need to know.
What do executives want to know? Well, it usually boils down to effort and outcomes. How much effort will something take and what is the expected outcome for that effort. If you can express your request, idea, proposal, or problem, in these terms you will be giving the executives just the right amount of detail.
Avoid spending time explaining how something happened, or how a widget works. This is unnecessary detail. If the executives really want to know this stuff, they will ask for it.
2. Executives care more about what something does than how it does it
When you buy a new TV do you care about how it converts TV signals into pictures? If you are like most of us you won’t even think about that. What we really care about is that we can watch our favorite shows in bright colors and with amazing sound. We care about the outcome. The same is true for executives — not that they care only about bright colors and sound — but they care about the outcome.
When considering solutions to a problem, an executive will focus on the outcome and result of each solution rather than how it works. The experts in the company need to know how the solution works so they can build it. But the executive isn’t building the solution, they are choosing which idea will best solve the problem and deliver the best outcome for the business.
This is why, when explaining an idea to an executive, don’t explain how the idea works. Focus on what the idea will produce, what it will deliver, what result it will produce.
3. Most executives prefer clarity over accuracy
Preferring clarity over accuracy doesn’t mean executives don’t care about the detail. And it doesn’t mean the ignore attention to detail. Executives do care about accuracy and they do value it. But they don’t have time to pay close attention to every piece of detail. The experts in the company focus on the details. Executives need just enough detail to clearly understand a situation.
Here’s an example: The sales team provide a report showing the growth in sales for all product lines this year. The report is five pages long with % increases to two decimal places for each of the company’s 25 product lines. High performing products are highlighted and projections made for the next year’s sales.
The sales manager needs to present the information to the executive board. He stands up in front of the room and says: “We had a great year. We sold 8% more than forecast. Next year we project revenue will go up another 7%. Our newest products released at the start of the year continue to be the top performers.” He paused, then said, “I can send you the report if you want to see the detail. For now, do you have any questions?”
The sales manager didn’t give out any detailed percentages. He didn’t breakdown the source of the extra sales. Instead, he gave a clear summary of the sales for the year. The summary converted the accurate detailed data into a clear message. A message that delivered what the executives cared about — outcomes for the year and forecast outcomes for next year.
Communicating with executives may not happen often in your job, but it helps to be prepared for when it does. To make the most of your time with senior leaders, avoid giving lots of detail. Always focus on the outcomes and impacts and not on the methods or how things work. And to keep things short, turn the accurate data into clear summaries.