Innovation, Technology, and Life in the Cloud

George Watt

When Techs Talk to Execs

Innovation is 1% inspiration, 99% communication

I have witnessed too many cases where great ideas, poorly communicated to senior executives, come to an abrupt end sometimes taking a career or two with them.  In a recent article I mentioned the importance of speaking in business terms.  Some people never get that far.

The following techniques can help make the difference between failure and the advancement of a great, high value innovation.

(This is an excerpt. Click here to access the original article, which  is also available on this site.)

1.  Less IS More – Start with the Most Important Point (Begin at the End)

Begin with the most important point.  Senior executives typically want to understand the proposal’s value before investing time exploring it.  In the critical first minutes you need to answer unspoken questions:

  • “Why should I listen?”
  • “What’s in it for the company?”
  • “What’s in it for me?”

State your purpose (e.g.:  To obtain approval…), request permission to proceed, say thank you, and open with an impactful statement.

2.  Consider What Is Most Important to your Audience

When speaking with more than one executive consider their individual interests.  If those are not shared, add the relevant “and” to your impact statement.  For example, speaking to a Sales executive and the Chief Sustainability Officer you might open:  “I am pleased to report that our project added $2 million to our top line revenue and reduced our carbon footprint by 450 tons.”

3.  “Tell the Time, Not How the Watch Works”

Typically senior executives want the short answer.  If they want an explanation they will ask for one.  When uncertain you can offer one. (e.g.:  “Yes.  Would you like me to explain how?”)  Senior executives are typically under tremendous time constraints and appreciate people who can get to the root of issues quickly.

4.  Use Questions to Empower the Audience and Confirm Less IS More

It is possible to offer too little.  Ask confirming questions, especially if you have summarized something critical or complex.  For example, when showing a detailed plan you might state:  “Our plan is on schedule and within budget.  Do you have any questions?”  The pause allows them to digest your material without disrupting your flow, and helps confirm your material is on target.

5.  Practice Your Message, Anticipate Questions (The Rule of Three)

A meeting in an elevator or can be every bit as important as a formal presentation.  Always know the executive summary for your important projects.

When preparing for a meeting, anticipate questions.  For presentations consider questions for every slide.  Prepare answers in advance.  This can dramatically increase your effectiveness and the level of confidence you will have in yourself, and the executives will have in you in return.

The rule of three:  The first time you present something to anyone should be at least the third time you present it.  If you can find someone willing to participate in your practice and to give you feedback then do so (that’s presentation #4).

6.  Write a Script

Writing your message will help you refine it help set the message clearly in your mind.  This can also help identify key items that may have been left out or that should be removed.

7.  Reduce Your Footprint

If you have time, try to restate your points in fewer words.  Begin with the key points, then reduce secondary items.

8.  If All Else Fails . . . Tell Your Story, Your Way . . . Backward

If you are unable to begin “at the end” write your story the way you would normally write it.  Then take the end (“and we saved $15 million”) and make that your first statement or slide.

9.  Have Your Backup (Sometimes More IS More)

Senior managers may wish to dive into details.  Be prepared to present them (rehearse).  If it is possible only one of the attendees may be interested in the details, a question can often make you more effective.  For example:  “Is that something of interest to everyone or would you prefer I cover this with you alone following the presentation?”  Otherwise, key executives may lose interest while you go through details.  Discretion is critical, especially if there is someone present who may not have the background necessary to understand the details.

10.  Only Wide Receivers Should Go Long – Stay On, Or Under, Time

The calendar of the most senior executives is typically an insane tapestry of logistics.  It is important to stay on, or under, the time allotted.  Under is best.  Practice hitting that time target.  That will leave some time for possible late starts and for questions.

If you begin a thirty minute meeting on time and finish in ten minutes the executive will appreciate your respecting their time.  That will dramatically increase the likelihood you will get more of it later.

I’ve also posted a “white paper” version of this piece here if you’d like more details.

Exhausted executive image courtesy of stock.xchng.

3 comments on “When Techs Talk to Execs

  1. Pingback: Pragmatic Cloud: Private Clouds Deliver No Value (Part II) | Pragmatic Cloud

  2. Michael
    May 26, 2011

    This seems like a great website, still a little unsure of some of the topics.

    • @GeorgeDWatt
      May 26, 2011

      Thank you very much, Michael. This site contains articles regarding the practical aspects of deploying, providing, managing, and using cloud computing technologies; though much of the information is applicable to most information technologies. I also share my thoughts and experiences related to management issues and about what some refer to as “soft skills” as I did in this article.

      I hope that helps. If you would like to know more please do not hesitate to contact me.

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This entry was posted on May 5, 2011 by in Innovation, Mgt. & Soft Skills and tagged , , , , , , .


This site contains articles regarding entrepreneurship, innovation, and the practical aspects of deploying, providing, managing, and using cloud computing, and other technologies. I also share my thoughts and experiences related to consumer driven IT, social media, management issues, and about what some refer to as “soft skills”.

All works copyright 2009 – 2019 George Watt – All rights reserved.

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