For PR and marketing professionals, the ability to communicate with and for the C-suite is a life skill. But it doesn’t have to take a lifetime to develop. By acting thoughtfully and strategically, you will demonstrate your business acumen, provide informed counsel and get the information you need to move forward with your work. It takes a combination of careful listening, insightful thinking, clear communication and a penchant for immediate action.
Here are some tips I’ve gleaned from providing counsel and support to executives and receiving communication support as an executive.
• Establish a message platform. If you handle communications for a leader of your organization, create a message platform for him or her so you know precisely how the executive wants key messages communicated. The right language is critical. Be precise and ensure alignment with the organization’s overarching message architecture.
• Keep up on trends and issues in your executive’s area of expertise, via news sources, webinars, conferences and trending social media. Continually observe what he or she is focused on and concerned about, and ask questions to keep informed and challenge your understanding and assumptions.
• Show up and speak up. Even if you have less experience or a different opinion from other attendees in a meeting, your perspective has value.
• Know executives’ communication preferences. How you communicate with your organization’s executives is critical, especially around time-sensitive issues.
When do certain leaders want you to email, text or call? How does he or she want to see updates on progress against goals? Do charts and infographics speak louder than words.
• Have an end result in mind before meeting with a leader. Do you want a decision, approval or only to inform him or her about something?
• Be a thought partner and come to the table with options. When asked to be part of a conversation around a response to a particular situation or issue, present the options and the possible responses and ramifications of each.
Leaders will value your experience, perspective and candor.
• Ask good questions. When you take part in a conversation, listen for what might be unclear or unanswered. It’s your job to present the views of many different stakeholders—perhaps ones that others just aren’t thinking about.
• Admit when you don’t know something. Say, “I don’t have that answer, but I will research that and get right back to you.” And then do so quickly with a reminder email or conversation that references the original question.
• See an idea or initiative through to execution. C-level executives cannot oversee every detail of an organization, and it is important to show your understanding of a vision and business strategy through thoughtful and informed actions that move the business forward.
• Make sure the follow-up is clear. Don’t leave a meeting without being clear about next steps. Ask, “Do we have your support?” or say, “I have three follow-ups: one, two and three.”
• Demonstrate trustworthiness. If you have concerns about something you believe will tarnish the organization’s brand, talk it through with the leader. Better to learn it’s not a significant risk than be asked later why you didn’t bring up the issue.
• Show the value of storytelling to showcase your brand. Let your leader know the importance of having fresh content for various platforms and channels. Work to improve how your leader engages in telling your brand story through engaging anecdotes, intriguing examples and meaningful facts.
If you want to advance your career, seize opportunities in a collaborative way to show your interest and intention to support your executive, the leadership team and the organization.
Show up in a way that demonstrates that you are invested in the business, brand and success of the organization—and your contributions will demonstrate your value in and out of the C-suite. PRN
Diane Gage Lofgren is CCO and senior VP of brand communication at Kaiser Permanente. She can be reached at email@example.com.