Is the way you communicate holding you back?

You only get one chance

We’ve been talking a lot about Executive Communications and Executive Presence in my Executive Mentoring Group in the past few months.

When I talk about communicating with executives, I always say that you only get one chance.

You need to get it right really fast, because they are impatient, they don’t care about your thing, and they will not make an effort to understand you if you are not clear.

But today, I want to talk about what is really happening here.

Harsh Judgment

When you get an opportunity to present to an executive their brain is doing (at least) two things:

1. They are judging the value of what you are saying, and
2. They are judging YOU.

And the judgment is fast and fairly harsh.

I don’t say this to exaggerate or sound scary, it’s just that executives are super busy and they tend to also quickly evaluate people.

Depending on how you come across you will be placed in 1 of three buckets:

1. Uninteresting/Average/Invisible
2. Promotion Blacklist
3. Someone to Watch/Star

1. Uninteresting/average/invisible

The way you get dropped into this bucket is to appear competent but uninteresting. You deliver the facts for the business case just fine, but you don’t make a strong impressiom personally with the executive.

Or you can land here if you take a long time to get to the point, or make the executive work really hard to figure out what this presentation is about, what is the desired outcome, or what it is you want from them.

I can tell you that I have on many occaisions I have seen people presenting to an executive and at 45 minutes into an hour long meeting, the executive had to interrupt the person and say,

“Sorry, but I stil don’t know why we are here or what you are asking for. We only have 15 minutes left. Could you please tell me what this is about?”

Or you can make your delivery so dry and dull that you are invisible even though you are standing right there.

At the end, the idea may be accepted and get approval, but the messenger is forgotten.

When the next promotional opportunity comes around, you won’t be on the list of people who are considered because you will remain unknown.

2. Promotion blacklist

The way to get into this bucket is to make a strong impression but a negative one.

This could be because you seem unprepared, defensive, not respectful, or if you continue to be aggressive after the executive has told you in one way or another that the meeting needs to be finished now.

And when I say, not respectful, I don’t just mean from a personal style or interaction standpoint.

For example, another way to show a lack of respect for an executive is to take up more of their time than is necessary.

Or to not understand the scope and context of what they are responsible for or worried about.

Or to miss the context of the current environment in which their business is operating.

I remember one time in a turn-around situation, I needed to cut my global budget from 140M to 60M. I was clear with everyone that this was the necessary cut, and I was doing my best to take care of the impacted people and help them move into other organizations. It was a very stressful time for everyone.

One guy in my organization pitched me a proposal for why we should invest $50M in a sports themed advertising campaign, and when I said, “Now is not the time, and that is more than 80 percent of our entire budget for headcount and programs”, he began to lecture me on being short-sighted.

Another thing I see people do is to ambush an executive at a celebration or a launch party to tell them everything that was wrong in their business — at a party!

You need to sense the mood, and put your thing in the right context, or you risk landing in this bucket.

When the promotion comes around, if someone brings your name up, the response will be, No.

3. Someone to Watch/Star

Some of the things that get you into this bucket are:

  • Be highly relevant. Know what they care about
  • Create the right hook – something the executive will be motivated and open to listen to
  • Create the right business case and get to the point quickly
  • Create the right frame for the information (why this matters)
  • Make the choices, decisions, actions requested from the executive really clear
  • Tell stories. Make the information concrete and relatable
  • Be authentic. Be a whole person, not just a conduit for data
  • Understand ahead of time how the executive likes to communicate
  • Get the tone and the context and the timing right

If you do these things, even if this one idea does not get approved, you will be placed neatly in the bucket of someone to watch/promote.

Want some help?

If you would like some help on improving your executive communications and your confidence when you communicate, preview my Executive Playbook on Mastering Executive Communications.

If you click through you’ll be able to browse and preview the playbook which includes both insights and guidance, as well as tools, templates, outlines and scripts to help you prepare highly effective communications.

Also on this page, you’ll see how you can get access to the whole playbook for free.

What do you think?

What do you think about these ideas? What would you add? Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

Was this useful?

If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

Avoid this mistake if you want to reach the executive level sooner
Sponsorship and Career Risk