Industry News

There's a secret to mastering executive communication

In my executive coaching sessions with my clients, they often say they’re worried about their long-winded speaking style and don’t feel ready to give a high-level executive presentation.

They often say, “If only I was a stronger public speaker or had a better vocabulary and grammar skills.” However, what they really need is to master one thing, and it’s not more but less.

Maybe it seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. Today’s leaders aren’t looking for you to be able to deliver a 10-minute monologue. They want you to be succinct. In my corporate trainings to leaders, “Executive Presence: Four Ways to Convey Confidence and Command Respect as a Leader,” I focus in on this key mantra to effective executive communication: be concise.

For a few of my tips on keeping your message tight, read on.

“Executive Presence is not necessarily about being formal or abundant in your communication, but rather straightforward and brief. The more you keep speaking, or explaining yourself, the more you cloud or dilute your core message.” ~ Kerrie Peraino, chief people officer, Verily Life Sciences

1. Get to the point

I’ve seen a lot of clients struggle with stating their facts right up front for the very reason they were called in front of executives. Often, especially early in your career, you’ve been asked to speak because you’re the resident expert on some area of the business. You possess a depth on knowledge in an area that your audience only superficially understands.

It is tempting – either to demonstrate your value or simply to give context for what you’re explaining – to try to give detailed or technical information and backstory. In a word: don’t. At least not at the outset.

Share your main point up front in the most straightforward manner possible, and then give the most succinct details possible to support your statement.

Be ready with your extensive knowledge to back it up with further information if/when there are questions.

2. Focus on facts, not feelings

Many of us have been pressured over time to “soften” our communications and be less forceful or direct with our words. This is especially true of women and individuals from some cultures and communities where strong statements are seen as challenging to authority, or as being arrogant or overly grand.

As such, I have worked with a number of clients who have adopted a speaking style that is heavy on personal verbs and thus downplays their conviction or certainty. Instead of saying, “if we keep using that supplier, 30% of our shipments will continue to be late,” they’ll choose, “I feel like that supplier is not right for what we need as a company right now.”

As a result, they seem less sure about the right course of action and entirely unlikely to make a decision. It takes more time to express yourself in this indirect manner, and the audience quickly loses interest. Focus on the facts at hand and leave the softer statements for other more appropriate settings, even if it’s not your usual style. 

3. Edit yourself in advance

The reality of presenting to executives means that, for at least part of the discussion, you’ll be on the spot. This can be very uncomfortable for many people.

The best remedy for this sort of discomfort, aside from exposure and experience, is practice. Practice the phrases you want to use, the words you want to say to be effectively persuasive. Plan your points and think through one to two sentences that clearly state your point.

The keys to being concise are knowledge and certainty. Spend some time crafting your thoughts into a tightly constructed message. Make concise communication your habit with everyone -- your team, your peers and even in your personal life.

The more you flex your “clear and succinct communication” muscles, the easier it will be to quickly get to the point.

Ready to take on executive communication, but not sure where to start? Stop watching public speaking videos. They’re useful, but not what you really need. Start practicing how you’re going to deliver your message with laser focus. Be consistent and start building the habit in all aspects of your life, and it will serve you well in the boardroom and beyond.

 

Do you need to learn how to be a clear and concise communicator? How to stop rambling? Hire Joel Garfinkle as an executive coach to positively improve your reputation and other’s perceptions of your capabilities. He recently facilitated webinar trainings for junior management on honing their speaking skills for clearer communication. With his guidance, they were able to sharpen their messaging and gain confidence in speaking succinctly. Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the U.S., and the author of 11 motivational books. Subscribe to his Fulfillment at Work Newsletter and his YouTube channel which has over 100 of Garfinkle's two-minute inspirational video clips.

If you liked this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free email newsletter on leadership. It’s among SmartBrief's more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.