A big part of an internal communicator’s job is acting as a bridge between C-level executives and on-the-ground employees. To do this effectively, you need to be able to communicate effectively with both. This can be challenging, because these two groups don’t always speak the same language. The techniques you use to communicate daily with employees aren’t necessarily the same methods for engaging with executives.
With that in mind, here are six tips for speaking the language of the C-suite to better serve as that bridge:
Get to the point.
The Denver Business Journal suggests using what journalists call the “inverted pyramid” when communicating with executives: “give them the bottom line (e.g., what you want) up front, and then provide support at the level of detail they will care about.”
While it may be helpful to couch broader communications within contextual explanations of why the information is important, assume executives know the context and keep it brief. If they want to know more, they’ll ask.
Prepare for questions.
In the event that those questions do come, be ready to answer them, and not just anecdotally.
“Don’t risk destroying your credibility with bad numbers, or worse, guessing,” advises The Muse. “If you aren’t sure about a number or an answer to a question, say you’ll look into it and come back.”
Fast Company adds that you should always ensure whatever data you share is relevant to the goals or strategies you’re trying to communicate.
Don’t sugarcoat bad news.
In company-wide communications, you may be inclined to soften the blow of announcing something negative with a counteracting positive, finely crafted language or reasons why the news isn’t so bad. Don’t do that with executives.
“A very large portion of projects (over 60 percent) fail due to people suppressing the truth about project issues,” writes former executive Dorianne Cotter-Lockard on her blog PhD Confidential. Instead of trying to lessen the impact of bad news, offer possible solutions to the problem, Cotter-Lockard says.
Address their concerns.
Executives often make their top priorities pretty clear from their first few weeks on the job. So make sure you speak to those, not totally unrelated issues or, worse, ideas that oppose their own.
Fast Company offers this example: “For instance, if your company is focused on cutting costs but you want approval for an expensive software program, don’t just talk about how amazing the features are. Instead, explain how it will have a rapid return on investment and keep saving money in the long run.”
Focus on outcomes.
More than how something will happen, executives want to know what impact that work will have on the broader organization. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Explain the outcomes.
“Your audience wants you to actually address the questions that are most relevant to them–not how you got here–so make your connections clear and precise,” Fast Company advises.
The Muse argues that it’s paramount to believe what you’re saying when communicating with executives. If you blink, they’ll know you don’t mean it.
But by the same token, you can’t just keep barreling through talking points if an executive makes a comment that changes the conversation. It must be a dialogue. Listen to their points, engage in the discussion and adjust if needed. Staying too rigid is just as bad as lacking confidence.
Following these guidelines will help internal communicators ensure that executives are informed, engaged and aware of company initiatives, as well as any action you need them to take.