Tips for Communicating to the C Suite
As we reassess the workplace and the skills needed to be successful in the new economy, many professionals have put communication at the top of their learning and development priorities. While the topic of communication has always been an important part of business etiquette and success, the specific ability to communicate to the C-suite level is one that requires unique focus.
Most executives know that communication is more than just sending out words and slides; it’s about packaging every message you wish to send in a clear, concise manner that will be easily understood by the receiver. It’s our responsibility as communicators to ensure that the message being sent is properly received and understood by the people with whom we are communicating.
For many, communicating to the C-suite level is a challenge because they don’t understand the scale at which to communicate. Presenters are either too focused on minute details (since they are looking so much at the data) or are unable to prioritize and simplify at a senior level. Especially in a data- and detail-driven profession such as accounting, there exists a difficulty in separating the micro detail from the larger, macro, strategic picture, which is where the C suite lives.
Recognizing that proper preparation for a C suite meeting is mandatory, there is a simple framework you can use to put together a presentation for a senior-level executive. It’s focused on two aspects of communicating: the tangible, logical information to be communicated and the intangible, emotional side of message sending.
What Do They NEED to Know?
This can be just one piece of information, two or even three. It’s rarely, if ever, more than three. If you have more than three, then revisit your messaging to be sure the thought process is strategic enough.
The reason for identifying three items is twofold. First, it forces you to move out of the weeds and find bigger, overarching themes that will resonate with the audience. After all, the C suite is incredibly busy and will not have context (nor the time to find the context); therefore you have to do some of the thinking for them in order to help them make decisions.
Second, limiting yourself to three primary items to communicate allows you to properly frame the presentation in a structured and tangible way. Rather than getting tripped up on minute details, you can stay on message without the need for a script.
What Are the Three Things You WANT Them to Know?
Here is where communication gets fun. What are you looking to communicate without words? You should be taking every opportunity in front of senior executives to showcase your value and talents. Perhaps you want to communicate that you’re an effective leader, the right person to lead an initiative or that the firm should make a particular decision.
While you may not be able to explicitly say these things, you can send the message with tone, body language and more. This will take just as much preparation as the actual words on the paper or slides in the deck. Communication is a full package, and sometimes those items that are left unsaid are the most important.
The stakes and bars continue to get higher as we look to measure advancement and success. Interpersonal relationships, and the ability to communicate at multiple levels, is a primary differentiator for those looking to evolve in the new economy.
Jim Frawley is the CEO and founder of Bellwether, a change management firm, and host of the Bellwether Hub podcast.
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