Congratulations – your project is on time, under budget, and suddenly high profile. In fact, you’ve been invited to present in front of the board. Are you ready?
By ready, we mean more than having all the data at your fingertips. Of course, you know your stuff. But is your communication style ready for the C-Suite? The rules for effective speaking are different if you want to impress executives and board members. Here are some tips to help you shine.
First, get right to the point. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Good news or bad news, executives hate it when you bury the lede. They want the most important information upfront, and they will let you know how much background they need. Start your presentation with the important concepts, presented crisply and concisely. You can finish up each point by offering more details if they’d like to hear more. Let the execs guide the discussion from there.
Second, we’re used to starting sentences with “I feel like…” or “I think that maybe…” Phrases like these diminish your message and make you seem less authoritative and confident. Even if you’re sure of your facts, the executives in the room may not find you as credible. State what you know as fact: “If we change vendors now, we’ll lose time as they get up to speed, and that will be almost impossible to make up.”
There are many phrases that undermine your authority, and you might not even know you’re using them. The word “just” is a great example; it makes any sentence weaker. “I just want to check the numbers before I get back to you” sounds much less confident than “I want to check the numbers.” Checking in for approval isn’t necessary. Phrases like “Does that make sense?” don’t help your audience – or you – so just eliminate them.
If “upspeak” is a problem for you, practice until you rid yourself of this habit. It plagues mostly young people, and it’s the term for raising your voice at the end of sentences, making everything sound like a question. Read these sentences out loud and you’ll hear a familiar pattern with many speakers: “I’m Debra, director of marketing for the Southeast Region?” “So the issue started in June? And went on for three months, I think?” Upspeak makes you sound much younger, less serious, and even less intelligent than you are. If you have a “like” problem, like every other word is like, “like,” you’re also undermining your executive presence.
If all this sounds like you have to change who you are to be taken seriously, you may be feeling a bit resentful. After all, you’re the smart person the executives wanted to hear from – they asked you to speak. A recent Forbes article on voice and image gave this advice: “Keep in mind; you are not changing you. You are modifying your vocalization so your inner self is projected credibly and without distraction.”
Every chance you get to be in front of the C-Suite is an audition for your future leadership role. A little practice and polish will help you look – and sound – the part.