Executive Briefings for Managers and Boards

By Les Wallace, PhD

How many of you have pitched your manager, an executive or Board of directors with a suggestion? That’s good, I saw a lot of heads nod, and we know for many of you this is a regular event. Now, what do you believe your boss or board was thinking while listening to you? If you believe you had their full attention, you’re most likely wrong. If you think they were marveling at your oral presentation skills, you are likely hallucinating. If you think they would like you to become more efficient AND effective in your briefings, you’re right!

clapping business people

Unless most of us have had a great boss who taught us how to give effective executive briefings, or, unless you’ve successfully mastered presentation and interpersonal skills from the numerous workshops available, you can most likely benefit from tuning up your report outs and idea pitches to management.

Here’s the ugly truth about us in management or governance: We’re busy. While we trust and like most of you, you don’t always use our time wisely. We’re too kind to tell you how you how frustrating it is. We’ve got multiple fires burning and our own manager or constituency on our back so our brain multitasks even if our physical behavior doesn’t indicate it. We carry around a set of key questions we’re always waiting to hear answered and we appreciate those of you who come prepared to do so. We suffer through the others of you who bumble around disorganized, don’t get to the point, and are frequently unprepared for the basic questions we will ask.

Boards and managers don’t have time for the trivial or the lifetime history of a problem or idea. We like it concise, tailored to our pressures and interests, and thought out thoroughly so we can cut to the chase and get ideas on the table to consider. That doesn’t mean we don’t like chit chat on occasion nor that we refuse to talk you through a difficult challenge. It simply means, we need you to protect our time, pitch to our interests, and be prepared to offer your suggestions so we can see that you have thought about the topic.

Here are a few direct recommendations that will help you gain credibility with management.

  1. Get to the point. Consider every opportunity to brief or update your leadership will be cut short and hook us with the key message within the first 90 seconds. In communication this is referred to as your “elevator message.” If you could only talk to me in the elevator, what would you focus on for that one and a half minute ride that would most powerfully get my attention? If you’re making a recommendation—begin with that and work backwards.
  2. Anticipate the key questions of leadership. There are five: (a) Why should I listen? (b) What’s your idea or key point? (c) Do you have a recommendation? (d) How does your recommendation help meet business goals, customer interests and help our workforce: (dollars, customers and co-workers)? (e) What do you need from me/us?
  3. Be prepared to offer detail about implementation of your idea having thought through any potential roadblocks, challenges, or objections that might come up. At a high level give me hope your idea can work.
  4. Call for the sale: make sure I know what you need from me and what that support would specifically look like.
  5. Let me see your passion. Another recitation of turgid mush won’t get my juices flowing!
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