Talking to Senior Executives


Three different perspectives on how to talk with or present to senior executives:

1) John Baldoni uses the following tips for Making Small Talk With Bigwigs:

  • Do your homework
    Find out what the executive cares about ahead of time; for example, don’t focus on profits if growth is on the agenda.
  • Be yourself
    While some formality is needed, let your true personality shine through; executives rely as much on how you tell them something as they do on what you tell them.
  • Read the situation
    Know when to stop; if you’ve made your point, don’t keep going even if you have more information to give.

2) The Retrospector believes many employees don’t want to talk to executives because the employees wonder if they are unnecessary and don’t want the executives to wonder the same thing. In How to talk to an executive and not sound like a complete idiot, he provides the following recommendations:

  • Think from their perspective
  • Be confident
  • Be honest

These may seem simplistic but are consistent with my own experience. Some employees are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing and leave a bad impression with an executive. As a result, they don’t speak up.

3) The Powerpoint Ninja includes more detailed suggestions in 7 Tips for Presenting to Senior Executives. My favorite suggestion is:

Executives are frequently going from meeting to meeting — often not always knowing what the exact purpose of the next meeting is. Their admin assistant may have accepted the meeting on their behalf or they may not have had time to review any information prior to the meeting. You need to tell them why they’re there and why your topic is important to them.

This is excellent advice and one I use myself.

Regardless of which of these tips you adopt, remember senior leaders are people first and executives second. Treat them as you would like to be treated.

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10 Responses to Talking to Senior Executives

  1. Mike Mankowski March 23, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    The one thing that is most difficult in today’s “global” environment is trying to “read” the room while presenting remotely over the phone. Establishing a connection with an exec while presenting remotely is difficult. Obviously video helps when available, but not being in the room adds its own challenges.

  2. Robert E March 23, 2010 at 6:08 am #

    If you are going to bring something to the attention of an executive, bring something to the table as well – your solution or idea.

    Don’t expect that the act of communicating a problem leads to an executive “owning” that problem.

    Look for leadership from an executive, not for answers.

  3. Jay Philips March 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

    Like I wrote on the original blog post:
    I agree 100% on doing your homework ahead of time. It’s also a good idea to cram the material one more time before walking into the meeting.

    • Jonathan August 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

      Knowing your material is important. Executives often watch to see if the briefing material is used as a crutch or as a communication aid.

  4. Kevin Cox April 5, 2010 at 10:38 am #

    The honesty bit is critical, but it isn’t just honesty about the facts–it’s honesty about the perspective. This sounds like “being yourself” but there is a subtle differnece here that many miss.

    I used to work on an annual global survey of c-level executives at a previous agency employer, Doremus.

    One of the biggest challenges of a c-suite executive is sorting through the multiple perspectives of the truth.

  5. jharg April 7, 2010 at 10:50 pm #

    I agree, executives just don’t have the time to sort through what’s real and what’s exaggerated. Honesty is vital. I found these guys offer great advice on all things executive.

  6. Anonymous October 25, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    i agree that!!!

  7. Eric July 9, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Good, practical advice. The point about knowing when to stop is often overlooked. You don’t have to share all of the material you’ve prepared if you’ve already reached the objective.


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