ATD Blog

Keys to Executive Conversations: How to Develop a Compelling Message

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Anyone who delivers presentations frequently or run a lot of meetings will admit that the hardest part of organizing content is figuring out what listeners want to hear. Those who do it well spend a significant amount of time simply trying to discern that key element about their topic, and they do this for all the right reasons. 

What executives want to hear

The most predictable response you can count on from executives is the question that forms in their mind as soon as your discussion gets under way: What’s your point, and why should I care?

Great messages answer that thought by balancing both your request and the business benefit. In fact, the more compelling messages do it in a single statement:


If you ___(take the action you want),  you will___(the business outcome/benefit ).

  • Example 1: You want to allocate marketing dollars to online promotions, and the resulting business outcome will be a 40 percent increase in product sales.
    Sample statement:  If we reallocate our marketing dollars to online promotions, we can increase website visits and product sales by up to 40 percent.


  • Example 2:  You want approval to launch a wellness program, and the business outcome is a drop in healthcare costs in six months.
    Sample statement: By launching an employee wellness program this year, we could see healthcare costs drop in six months. 

Combining both the request and the business benefit into one sentence helps executives sense a need to act on or approve something in order to gain the benefit. Giving a clear measurement creates a memorable impact, but it also puts pressure on you to support that impact with proof points. The greater the benefit or impact, the more likely the listeners are to engage in the rest of the storyline.  
Your average listener has an undivided attention span of 30 seconds. A great message can capture attention just that quickly. It’s the bottom-line impact at the beginning of the presentation that peaks their interest and desire to follow you through the rest of the presentation.

And while it’s just one thought, it can take well over 30 percent of your development time to get the statement right. Consider it the tagline of your presentation or meeting and put in the effort to make it memorable and repeatable. It makes all the difference. 

For more on the keys to effective executive conversations, read last week's blog on the importance of creating a clear message and takeways.

About the Author

Sally Williamson is president and founder of Sally Williamson & Associates. She specializes in executive coaching and developing custom workshops for groups that focus on improving spoken communication skills, ranging from formal presentations to everyday communication, as well as selling situations.  She coaches interpersonal communication skills, helping individuals improve their executive presence and overall impressions; [email protected].

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