Speaking with senior executives can feel like seeing your favorite celebrity in the supermarket.
You are speechless and unfocused, and everything you say sounds… stupid.
The reason speaking with higher ups feels so uncomfortable and scary is that we associate them with power and authority. We fear every encounter can make or break our careers, and that added stress doesn’t help us sound more confident.
If every executive meeting puts you on edge, this is for you.
3 Easy ways to speak more confidently with senior leaders
Speaking confidently in any situation can be stressful, but when you are speaking with decision makers who can influence your career the stakes are high.
Here are 3 tactics I’ve been using for years to beat the fear and show up with confidence:
1. Take them off the pedestal
Executives, like celebrities, are people just like you.
So the best way to gain confidence is to stop thinking about them as superiors and start thinking about them as peers.
When you approach executives, Imagine you are speaking with a colleague, and address them the same way.
Instead of focusing on the gap between you, think about what you have in common and lead from there.
I once reached out to a CMO who loved Christmas movies, so I kicked off the conversation talking about Die Hard. It immediately broke the ice and made me less intimidated and more confident.
2. Share an executive summary
So many people get it wrong when it comes to speaking with executives. They think they need to showcase their knowledge, so they go on and on, they get in the weeds and end up losing attention and respect.
To speak with executives, you need to think like an executive.
Senior leaders are extremely busy. They need to understand various parts of the business and the industry, collect information and make hard decisions in a short amount of time.
To do that, they need high level insights. They don’t have time for the details.
This is where you come in.
Instead of getting into the weeds and trying to explain everything you’ve ever done you need to communicate with an executive summary.
If you don’t know what that is, an executive summary is a section in a business proposal or project plan that summarizes the high level insights so the reader can get up to speed quickly without reading the whole document.
It’s called executive summary because it’s how you deliver a message to busy executives - you don’t go into the details. You share the most relevant highlights.
You can do the same thing when you talk to an executive. Prepare a few bullet points that summarize your main points and give them enough context to connect the dots.
Trust me, if they want to know more, they will ask you.
When it comes to executive communications, less is more.
3. Prepare and practice
This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’ll be surprised how often people just wing it.
When the stakes are high, you want to do anything in your power to show up as the leader you want to become. You won’t get many opportunities to impress senior executives, so your goal should be to make the most out of any opportunity.
You may not be able to prepare for a random encounter in the hall, but you can prepare and practice before a big meeting, an all-hands or a company event.
First, identify your stakeholders. Who do you want to impress?
Then, ask yourself: what are 3 things I can share that will add value and position me in a strategic light?
Prepare your 3 bullet points and rehearse them. I like to use zoom to record myself so I can evaluate my tone and how I come across. Being on camera also adds a bit of stress, just like meeting an executive in real life.
Think like an executive, speak like an executive
The best way to speak confidently with executives is to start acting like you are one. To do that you’ll need put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself:
What would [executive] do?
How can I make [executive] life easier?
If I was [executive] what would I need to know? What could be redundant?
The more you know, the easier it will be to speak with your executives and do it with confidence.
I believe in you and I’m rooting for you.