Many corporate executives have an intense fear of communicating to boards and top senior executives. Despite acknowledging it as a rare opportunity for great career exposure they still dread it. But if that describes you I can assure you that you are not alone.
As an executive coach and leadership consultant who works with corporate leaders in a variety of industries, I often witness the problems. People who are usually composed lose their poise. Grace goes out the window. They freeze up and freak out, not sure what to say or how to say it. Although nobody knows their division, department, or team better than they do they feel lost and get tongue tied. They look like anything but inspiring leaders.
Yes – it does take a different communication style to impress and persuade your organization’s strategic thinkers. But they invited YOU there for a reason. Own your influence! Get in the game! Seize the day and supercharge your career!
1. Preparation is Key
Don’t procrastinate. Do your homework NOW. Ask yourself tough questions and come up with convincing answers. What if you don’t have time to prepare, you ask? That’s why preparation has to become part of your leadership method. Even when you aren’t scheduled to meet with the higher-ups, behave as if you are. Take notes. Write down stats. Observe and question. Get reports from your teams. Be ready. Then you’ll welcome surprise encounters with senior executives as opportunities to distinguish yourself as a resourceful and fully informed leader.
2. Organize Your Thoughts
Clear, concise, powerful speech doesn’t happen by accident. Neither is it magic or some mysterious natural-born gift. Sure, some people are especially eloquent and articulate. But anyone can develop communication charisma. Just understand that organized communication delivered with clarity comes from logically arranged, crystal-clear thoughts and ideas.
3. Summarize Strategic Points
Present a broad platform of supportive data. But don’t bog senior executives down with unnecessary information and explanations. If they want clarification they’ll ask. Stick to larger, more strategic points and systems rather than talking about individual tactics and techniques. Map out big battle plans instead of giving them blow-by-blow details of a minor skirmish.
4. Speak Conceptually
They are strategists and conceptual thinkers. They look at the whole organization with a big panoramic vision. Your job is to show them the big picture perspective and overall concept. Summarize and highlight the essentials. Don’t make them digest the nitty-gritty mundane managerial-level details. Instead give them a valuable synopsis and focused snapshot.
5. Expect the Unexpected
Expect to get questions you didn’t anticipate. Pause, ponder, reflect, and then answer. If you don’t know don’t fake it! Let them know that you’ll get back to them promptly with the answer they need. Also learn to reframe answers so they don’t sound negative. “Our numbers are down this month but it was a bad month” sounds whiney. “Our numbers were down. That’s why we took the initiative to do such-and-such to ensure that they improve” sounds proactive. Accept full responsibility if things didn’t go well. You’ll get full leadership credit when they do!
6. Strategic Agility
When preparing to have a conversation with powerful people, don’t develop tunnel vision. Remember, these are conceptual, strategic, broad-vision thinkers. They may suddenly go in a completely different direction you didn’t anticipate. Be agile and flexible enough to abandon your script and go with the flow. Otherwise you’ll just get rattled. Don’t panic! As long as you don’t get lost you can always lead them back!
7. Don’t Beat around the Bush
Don’t just take your audience on a sightseeing expedition. Drive home your point. Know your destination and go there. Cut out the fluffy parts. Leave in only elements that move your message forward – the “momentum messages.” Decide what you’re trying to say and stick to the core without distractions, detours, or deviations. Show them your decisive, confident side.
8. Presence Communicates Louder than Words
Your body language, the way you’re dressed, and your overall presence broadcasts a loud message. Commanding presence can be hard to define but it’s easy to recognize. Cultivate it inside-out as part of your leadership brand. But arrogance is just thinly veiled fear and insecurity. What you want to exude is genuine confidence. That comes from knowing what you’re talking about and how to explain it.
9. No “I” in Team work
Leadership is defined by “we.” Talk industry, company, division, department, and team – but not “me.” This isn’t a platform for you to toot your own horn. Avoid saying “I did this and that.” Eliminate words that point to you. Instead use language like, “We are working across all divisions to ensure we take everyone’s feedback into account before we implement the initiative.” Highlight collaborative inclusion. That’s what resonates with senior leaders.
As a pioneering and visionary innovator, Sarah is a certified professional image consultant and brand strategist, speaker, trainer and author. Her company, Illustra Consulting, provides leading-edge image and brand management strategies for top leaders and high achievers who wish to take their career to the next level. She also delivers innovative and inspiring corporate workshops to assist large organizations in strengthening their corporate brand.
Copyright © 2012, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS
1-800-267-3245, [email protected]
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