5 keys to make the CEO act on your ideas

Having trouble getting heard by the top brass? Bolster your pitch with these essentials.

Last month I did a customized webinar on “How to Build Executive Presence” for about 70 managers at a client company. To prep the content for the session, we asked about a dozen C-suite executives and their direct reports to bullet-point their answers to the question, “How do you define executive presence?”

When I summarized their responses, the top three answers were:

  • Interpersonal engagement
  • Concise and clear speaking
  • Confidence

I recently saw some of these behaviors in action when I coached a CEO and her extended leadership team through an issues-identification and problem-solving session related to growth barriers in their company. From my spot as coach and facilitator, I could see whose comments landed with the CEO and top leadership and whose did not. The people who nailed it exhibited the three characteristics of executive presence.

Specifically, here’s what they did to get the CEO to listen to them:

1. They knew what they wanted to say.

They had thought about what they wanted to say before they got to the meeting. The most effective people had a beginning, middle and end to their comments answering the questions “What?” and “So what?” and “Now what?”

2. They made it about the company and not about them.

The people who made the biggest impact with their comments didn’t whine. They framed their comments in terms of what was best for the future of the company. There was no “poor, pitiful me” tone to their remarks.

3. They had a clear point of view.

The people the CEO listened to the most had an informed and clearly relayed point of view. They weren’t wishy-washy about their ideas or suggestions.

4. They backed up their point of view with facts and stories about the impact of the problem.

The most effective communicators shared facts and told stories that illustrated how the problem played out in real life, and how that was hampering growth. They used examples that everyone could easily relate to and understand.

5. They offered solutions that were easy to implement and likely to make a difference.

When we talked about offering solutions during the meeting, the people who had the biggest impact were the ones who offered simple and clear solutions. A good way to gauge simplicity and clarity was to see whether they could easily get the core idea on a Post-it note.

Why do CEOs listen to people who take these kinds of approaches? One reason is because most people who make it to the C-suite have at least two things in common:

  • They’re prone to making decisions.
  • They’re likely to make those decisions using objective rather than subjective criteria.

If you want the CEO to listen to you, you must frame what you have to say so that it is based on objective, observable facts and leads to actions that would make a positive difference on the issues that matter most.

Scott Eblin is an executive coach, speaker and author of “The Next Level.” He blogs at The Next Level Blog, where this article originally ran.

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