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Keys to Effective Executive Conversations: A Clear Message and Takeaways


Wed Nov 20 2013

Keys to Effective Executive Conversations: A Clear Message and Takeaways

More than 300 executives and managers participated in our recent survey and interviews related to executive-level conversations. The results were both confirming and compelling. For years, we’ve shared anecdotes with managers about what executives are looking for from high-level meetings, and our data provides statistical data to prove our stories.

But even we were surprised to see how consistent top executives were in their responses. They agreed on impressions. They agreed on the framework of meetings. And they agreed on how they like to participate. So, with such continuity in what executives expect to hear, why do managers feel that they miss the mark almost 40 percent of the time?


Because while managers have the best of intentions, they are making the wrong choices about how they approach meetings with executives.

What executives want

Consider the following example: A manager is scheduled to meet with an executive for 30 minutes to give recommendations on a new initiative. Most managers say they would plan to spend 20 minutes presenting their ideas and then save five to 10 minutes for questions on the topic, and they come with visuals and documentation to support their position. This approach is fairly buttoned-up.

However, most executives say the meeting should be interactive.  In fact, they believe the main reason for meeting with them on a topic is to get their perspective and to see how they can connect the dots to broader company initiatives. Executives believe that within five minutes they should be participating. They want an interactive conversation rather than a report out. And, they admit that they are often disruptive in trying to change the course and approach of the conversation.

So, the best of intentions are driving some poor approaches to high-level meetings.


Opposing views

When we asked executives what goes wrong in executive-level meetings, they said:

  • Managers are unprepared to answer questions.

  • Managers present too much detail; the conversation isn’t high-level enough.

  • The presenter can’t make his point effectively.

  • There’s no clear takeaway.

Interestingly, when we asked managers what goes wrong, they said:

  • I was rushed.

  • The executive sidetracked the meeting.

  • I didn’t get through all my material as planned.

  • The meeting was cut short.

The manager’s perspective is real, but it’s easy to see how it happens based on the executive’s perspective.  The manager’s structure is too formal and covers too much detail. Executives want the conversation focused on a clear message and takeaways, but they also want managers to do their homework so they can answer questions in the discussion.

While executives are a tough audience, they also are a predictable one. That predictability makes it a little easier to learn how to prepare a high-level and interactive conversation. 


Next week’s blog focuses on the most critical element: a compelling message.

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