Four Tips for Talking with the CEO

Posted 05.02.2013

Does the thought of a brief conversation with the top executive in your organization stir up the butterflies in your stomach?   If it does, you’re not alone.  It’s basically a form of corporate stage fright that lots of people experience.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of conversations with both rising leaders and those that are already at the top of their organizations.  The ones that are well intentioned want the same thing – the information and engaged people they need to lead a successful organization.  That common ground can set you up for a brief but meaningful conversation with your CEO when the opportunity presents itself.

With that as a starting point, here are four tips for talking with the CEO:

Do Your Homework – If you want to have a substantive conversation with your CEO, you need to do your homework regularly.  That means paying attention to what’s going on in the broader world and drawing some conclusions about what all of that could mean to your organization.  It means paying attention to what’s going on in other parts of your organization.  It means understanding the performance of your organization and what drives that performance.  All of that will help you learn to think like a CEO.  If you learn to think like a CEO, you’ll be better able to talk with the CEO.

Believe You Should Be There – You actually know things that the CEO doesn’t.  You’re likely closer to the front line or customer action than she or he is and, therefore, have a perspective that could be valuable to them.  Believe that you should be in the conversation and have something important to share with the CEO.

Establish Rapport and Context – Your CEO likely talks with hundreds of people a week.  It’s a lot of names and faces to remember.  Help her out by reintroducing yourself and what you do if you’re not in conversation with her on a regular basis.  Ask if she has a couple of minutes for you to share an idea or some news she might find valuable.

Keep Things Tight and Focused – You’re likely not going to have more than a few minutes with the CEO, so it’s important to keep the conversation focused.  One of the best methods I’ve learned for doing that is the What? So What? Now What? framework.

  • What? – What’s the idea or news you want to share?
  • So What? – From the CEO’s perspective, why should he care?  What makes this relevant to him?
  • Now What? – What do you want the CEO to know, think or do at the end of the conversation?  What offer do you want to make on next steps?

What are your tips for talking with the top boss in your organization?  What are the must do’s?  What are the absolute don’t do’s?