Leading Executive Conversations Part 2: Framing the Conversation

In my last blog post, Leading Executive Conversations: The Executive Perspective, I shared that leading an executive conversation should start by understanding their perspective on a particular subject. Now, we’re going to discuss framing the conversation.

Executives expect to hear three key things in a conversation.  First, they need a message that defines, “what’s your point?”  Near the beginning of the conversation, you need to tell the executive what you want and what the benefits are.  Second, you need to share an outline of the conversation so that the he understands what you want to accomplish and believes it is possible to do so in the meeting.  Finally, you need to explain how it will add value to the business.

Many say their challenge with executive meetings is that no matter how much they prepare, the executive just seems to take over.  Executives hijack meetings when they don’t have a clear message or they don’t understand how you plan to prove the message. Good executives work from frameworks and clear takeaways.  So, I’m going to show you a framework that addresses those issues.

The most common framework we use with clients is three simple concepts:  SITUATION…SOLUTION…NEXT STEPS or IMPACT.

Here’s why we like this.

Most people begin with their solution or recommendation.  After all, it’s what you’ve researched and what you want the executive to approve.  But, it can quickly derail a conversation.  The executive is more interested in the current situation such as what’s working now, where you think the gaps are and what you see other companies doing successfully.  All of this is part of framing up the SITUATION.  An executive’s decision about your recommendation will be based on how you see the challenge and what you think can be accomplished by solving for it.

Usually, the SITUATION is the point where you want to create dialog with the executive.  You want to be sure that the executive agrees with some of the assumptions you made going into this project.

Framing the SITUATION looks like


a funnel with three parts.  It represents starting the conversation wide and then bringing it down to a specific initiative.  Remember, the C-suite perspective is external and very interested in trends and insights going on in the industry not so much about specific tools.

We recommend that you guide this part of the conversation by first discussing the external aspects of your topic such as trends and results, what other companies are doing and insights on what works.

Then, bring the topic inside the organization by discussing what’s changed in your company, where are you investing and what are the returns?

Finally, lead the conversation to a specific program, tool or initiative.  That’s your SOLUTION!

You will always need to present the SITUATION before you offer up a SOLUTION because the SITUATION is where you establish your credibility.

The SOLUTION is a high level overview of the recommendation.  Not about features or work flow process, but more about outcomes and what would be different if implemented.

Finally, NEXT STEPS are important with top executives.  Too often, we view success as meeting with them again.  Not likely, they prefer to move things along and you should have in mind what you want to ask for as a next step.

I’ve seen impact and results from this framework time and time again.  It does work!  The hardest part is keeping the conversation at the right level.  I hope the framework and the funnel concept will be useful to you.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

About the author: Sally Williamson is the industry leader for improving the impact of spoken communication and executive presence.  As President and founder of Sally Williamson & Associates, she specializes in executive coaching and developing custom workshops. She is a thirty year veteran of developing key messages and coaching for professionals to improve their executive presence and overall impressions.  Her book, The Hidden Factor: Executive Presence, has received rave reviews.


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1 Comment

Lois Melbourne

This is very well stated and very real! You need to know your executive audiance. Do they like lots of numbers or only the ones attached to $s? Do they want to know your source of info – or not.

When pulling together your presentation, put your two hands together there your thumbs make the bottom of a triangle and your fingers make the top point. Make sure you are speaking to the top of the pyramid, but are prepared to dive lower – in the hierarchy of information. Execs are acustom to making fast decisions, serve it up quick and with credibility.

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