This might sound counterintuitive, but executive communication isn’t only important when communicating to executives. It’s important whenever you’re communicating to someone who is lacking context.
In that manner, it’s about the level and depth of communication, not necessarily the person you’re speaking to. It’s called executive communication because an executive is often viewing things from a 10,000 ft level while folks who are focused on the day-to-day might be looking at things from a 10 ft level. They’re naturally more in the weeds and technicalities because that’s their job.
It’s helpful to apply this 10,000 ft level of communication whenever you’re speaking to someone who isn’t in the weeds, has little context, is curious, or is a stakeholder who needs to be kept in the loop—whether or not they’re an executive.
So let’s talk about how we can zoom out from the details and elevate our communication to an executive level.
Executive Communication Framework
Here’s a simple framework for communicating things at a high level to executives or an audience who may not be familiar with all the details.
What is the thing?
Give a clear and concise statement of the project. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that executives (or someone who isn’t close to the project) may not be familiar with.
Why is it important?
Provide context to help the executives understand why the project is important. This should include information about market trends, customer needs, and relevance to the business goals. Use quantitative and/or qualitative data to support your reasoning.
What are we gonna do about it? What are the next steps?
Provide clear next steps and/or a call to action. What do you want the executives to do with this information? Do you need their approval, feedback, or support?
How you communicate each of these things depends on your goal for communication.
Three Reasons for Project Communications
There are three reasons to communicate about a project:
- “I’m doing this thing FYI.”
- “I’m doing this thing and need your approval.”
- “I’m trying to decide between a, b, and c. Help me figure it out.”
“I’m doing this thing FYI.”
In this case, you’re simply providing information or an update to the executives so they’re aware of what’s going on. Keep the message short and to the point, and make it clear that there’s no action needed.
“I’m doing this thing and need your approval.”
You’re pitching something you think you should do but need to make sure it’s aligned, so you need approval.
When you need approval from an executive, be sure to clearly outline what you’re asking for and why. Follow the framework above and as part of your closing, and make it easy for an executive to respond with a clear “yes” or “no.”
“I’m trying to decide between a, b, and c. Help me figure it out.”
You’re working through a decision on the path forward. Offer up the options, provide the pros, cons, and tradeoffs that you’ve thought through, and work together to develop a solution.
If it’s internal, work together to figure out the solution.
If it’s with a client, make a recommendation and ask for their feedback and thoughts about each option. Then, answer questions they may have.
In both cases, be open to feedback or suggestions.
🚨 No matter what is discussed, the follow-up is as important as the upfront communication. That means providing a status update to close the loop on what was discussed.
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1. 9 Things I Learned from Twitch’s CEO – This field note was inspired by Shaan Puri’s episode on the My First Million podcast. He explained out loud lessons I learned through my time working at HubSpot but haven’t written down but have found valuable to codify and teach.
2. If You Want To Lead, Master This Skill – Spoiler alert: It’s all about communication.
3. Good Leadership is About Communicating “Why” – Whenever we communicate an idea or an announcement, it helps to give the audience a reason for why it’s important and why they should listen. Otherwise, it may not be clear how it’s relevant to them. It’s simple but easy to forget amongst all the things we have on our minds.