Here’s what you need to know before you talk to the CEO

Here’s what you need to know before you talk to the CEO

It’s understandable to be a little nervous before a meeting with the CEO. You may be thinking that this conversation can make or break your career: Say or do the right thing and you’re catapulted to the C-suite. Do the opposite and you’re destined to a life in the mail room. Well, rarely does one meeting have such a profound effect on a your career. But that doesn’t mean you don’t want to be prepared for an encounter with the top office. Presenting a polished image can help you land that next promotion.

Here are eight things you need to know to make communicating with the CEO more successful:

  1. They move at lightning speed. Always be respectful of their time. While some CEOs appreciate light-hearted banter, most want to quickly get down to business.
  2. They want to hear your ideas and thoughts. Unfortunately, CEOs are often surrounded by ego-strokers who’ll agree with anything they say or do. That’s why most CEOs place high value on breakthrough thinking. They also crave honest feedback. To garner the most influence, frame your thoughts in a business perspective. For example, if you disagree with a plan, say, “Here’s what’s at risk if we don’t change our strategy.”
  3. They want to know what isn’t working. This isn’t the place for an emotional appeal. Stick to the facts when sharing problems. And think twice about bringing up an issue unless you have a suggestion for fixing it.  
  4. They sometimes let fear drive their decisions. When it comes to communicating bad news, CEOs struggle to be fully transparent. The possibility of audience backlash often usurps their willingness to keep stakeholders in the know. 
  5. They don’t mix well with the masses. But it’s not their fault. It’s lonely at the top. CEOs often feel more comfortable when they’re in the company of those who best understand their situation, such as other CEOs. Consider this before stepping into their office.
  6. They mean well; they’re just too removed from the day-to-day. The majority of CEOs don’t want to eliminate positions, raise prices or cut off suppliers. They’re just doing what’s best for business. But because they’re focused on the big picture, it can be hard for them to see how their decisions impact individuals, processes or other strategies. As someone closer to the business, your job is to inform the leader of any ramifications.
  7. They expect action. CEOs are used to everyone jumping when they say jump, so follow through on action items. Most have little tolerance for anything or anyone that slows down their momentum.
  8. They like to laugh. In fact, laughter is frequently one of the only ways they have to relieve the stress of 24/7 decision-making. A word of caution, however: Use your common-sense filter to make sure your attempts at humor don’t offend.

One of the best ways to prepare for these high-level meetings is to practice. This can boost your confidence as well as your reputation. My six-week coaching program is perfect for those looking to perfect their C-suite communication skills. If a promotion or project has you in front of the big guy or leading lady, dedicate an hour a week to self improvement. If you have your eye on that corporate ladder, there’s no better time to invest in yourself.  

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Melissa DeLayRead all author posts