Three warning signs you aren’t communicating well with executives

16 Dec 2021

Communicating with executives is a high-pressure situation for many people. Most of us take time to prepare ahead of a tip to the boardroom. But no matter how well prepared you are for the big presentation things can still go wrong. When they do, it helps to know these 3 warning signs that you are not communicating well with the executives.

  1. They cut you off before you’re finished.
  2. No one has any questions or comments.
  3. The questions aren’t related to the topic you.

If you can spot these three signs of failed communication, you can turn things around and still get the result you want.

1. They cut you off before you’re finished

Being cut off mid-presentation can feel awful. But despite how we feel, it is an important sign the communication wasn’t going well. Assuming they are not just rude, executives may interrupt for a few reasons.

  • You’re taking too long to get to the point
  • You aren’t giving them information in the way they need it
  • You’re not giving them the time to respond to your points

Instead of being annoyed at the interruption, think of it as a gift. The audience is giving you a chance to get their attention and focus. If they didn’t care about the topic you wouldn’t be presenting in the first place.

When executives interrupt you, they are telling you they care about the topic. They are also letting you know something about the presentation isn’t right. Listen to their comments and adjust based on what they say.

2. No one has questions or comments when you are finished

You finish your presentation to the executives and ask if they have questions. All you get in response is a polite ‘We don’t have any questions, thank you.’

If you were nervous about answering questions this could feel quite good. But it is a sign that the presentation didn’t go well.

Every presentation has a point, it has a purpose. The reason you stood up and spoke is to make something happen. Maybe you needed them to make a decision, take action, or give approval for an idea.

If the execs make a comment about how the information will help them, that’s positive. But if they thank you and nothing else, that’s bad. Whatever the reason for your presentation, it is unlikely the goal was just to be thanked.

Here’s the thing, if you’ve finished and are out of time, there is nothing you can do to fix it at the time. That’s why it is important to pause to allow questions during your presentation. Do this early and often and you will get a sense for how engaged the executives are. It also gives them a chance to redirect you if you’re message isn’t quite on target.

3. The questions are not related to the point you are making or the thing you want to achieve

When executives ask questions that don’t relate to your presentation’s purpose it is a sign of misaligned communication.

As mentioned above, every presentation has a purpose. If the audience has questions that don’t relate to that purpose one of two things happened:

  1. The audience misunderstood your purpose.
  2. The audience has a different purpose they are focused on.

It is important you know when either of these things happens.

If you suspect the audience misunderstood your purpose, you should re-state it. Take a moment and remind the group why you are there. Say you are looking for approval for the idea, or you hope to get their approval and funding, or whatever it is you need. Restating the purpose will realign the audience to you goal. If the audience doesn’t understand the goal you are unlikely to achieve it.

The second scenario happens when the executives ask questions unrelated to your purpose. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you need to recognise when it happens. It helps if you and your audience both acknowledge the purpose of the presentation has changed.

Instead of pushing the conversation back to your topic, highlight the apparent difference. Restate your purpose for the presentation and ask if the executives have a different goal in mind. Failure to do this can lead to you and the executives working towards different goals. That’s not going to deliver a good result for them or for you.


It helps to prepare before an executive presentation. But no matter how well prepared you are, things sometimes go wrong. Don’t wait until after the event to find out if you did a good job. Learn the warning signs that you are not communicating well with executives. Then you have a chance to do something about it while you’re still in the room.