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How to speak like a senior executive
March 29, 2022
Learning how to speak like a senior executive will benefit your career. You’ve probably noticed that senior executives have a unique way of speaking that’s often very different from the way the rest of us speak. This is especially true when they’re giving a presentation; there’s something about the way they talk that just exudes authority and confidence.
It’s one of the things that seems to be a distinguishing characteristic of these senior executives, and lots of people think it comes naturally with the years of experience that it takes to reach such an executive position. But what if it’s actually just a skill you can learn, like any other skill?
Speaking like a senior executive takes time
It’s not likely that the senior executives you’re thinking about just developed their manner of speaking naturally. Instead, they probably developed that ability intentionally, with long hours of practice. It’s a good bet that they learned how to speak like a senior executive long before they became a senior executive.
This may be a bit of a chicken and the egg situation- it’s hard to say if an executive learned this sort of confident, polished speaking ability because they were promoted to an executive position, or if they were promoted because they already spoke like an executive.
One thing is certain- if you learn how to speak like a senior executive, you’ll be able to impress your bosses, earn their trust, and present yourself well. For obvious reasons, we can’t guarantee that learning to speak like a senior executive will get you promoted, but it definitely won’t hurt your chances.
Why You Should Speak Like A Senior Executive
Maybe you need a bit more convincing- that’s ok. It’s not immediately obvious why speaking like an executive matters, and for many people it’s not even obvious what makes “executive speaking” different in the first place.
First, know that when you’re communicating with people, how you say things matters every bit as much as, if not more than, what you’re saying. You may be saying something of vital importance, but if the delivery isn’t good no one will hear it.
One of the reasons why senior executives have risen to their positions is that they understand this crucial concept, and they’ve learned how to communicate effectively. This means they also value employees who can communicate effectively, and they may even place a higher value on that ability than on many of the other qualities an employee can possess.
The difficult thing about this is that it’s very much an intangible quality and ability, and many people have trouble identifying it even if they’re easisly able to pick up on it. In other words, people can tell if you’re a good communicator, and it will shape their opinion of you, even if they aren’t consciously aware that they’re judging you based on your communication skills.
All of this means that learning to speak like a senior executive isn’t just a great way to make yourself stand out from the crowd, it can actually make you better at your job. Better communicators can get more done, in large part because people tend to like them better, and therefore they work with them better.
How To Speak Like A Senior Executive
Now that you know why you should want to speak like a senior executive, it’s time to talk about how to speak like a senior executive.
Counterintuitively, the first step in learning how to speak like a senior executive is learning how to listen. Most people are actually terrible listeners. In fact, most people don’t listen at all, they simply wait for their turn to talk. This is classic middle-manager behavior, and it will only hold you back.
Senior exectuvies have learned the value of truly listening to people. This is because you can’t rise to the level of a senior executive if you aren’t listening. The only way to learn about how to improve performance, working conditions, and more, is to actually listen to people.
In fact, a huge part of any senior executive’s job is listening. They have to listen both to critisism and to support. They need to know what they’re doing well, and where they can improve.
Executives, after all, are leaders. Leaders have to be able to make informed decisions, and they can’t do that if they aren’t listening. The next time you’re speaking with a senior executive, pay attention to what they’re doing.
Odds are, they’re making eye contact with you, asking clarifying questions, and restating what you’ve said. All of these are classic active listening techniques which help the listener develop a deeper understanding of what the speaker is saying.
You can’t fake this stuff. People can tell when you aren’t really listening to them- they can tell in the moment, but it also becomes very clear in the aftermath. This is doubly true in a work setting where you’re a leader, because a leader who doesn’t listen to people is really quite obvious. Their behavior and the way they respond to their employees will make it clear.
By contrast, when you’re genuinely listening it changes the way you speak. For one thing, you speak less. You’re listening, after all, which means you’re letting someone else speak. In addition, when you speak, it will be to ask clarifying questions to ensure you’re truly understanding what the other person is saying.
Your ability to listen will really become clear in future conversations, as well. Good leaders are obviously very knowledgable about what’s going on in their organizations because they’re listening to what people are saying. It’s always clear who’s listening and who’s not.
So, the first thing to do if you want to speak like a senior executive is to learn how to listen better.
Learn To Be Authentic
Far too many people try to sound like an executive. You’ve heard them- they fill their sentences with nonsensical buzzwords and always sound like they’re talking about high-concept business ideas, but half of what they say is just gibberish.
This isn’t limited to the business world, or to people who want to sound like an executive. Plenty of college students crack open a Thesaurus every time they write a paper in an attempt to make themselves sound more “academic.” It’s a common thing that all of us do from time to time- in an attempt to make ourselves sound smarter, or more important, we alter our speech into something unnatural and try to act like something we’re not.
This is, of course, what politicians seem to excel at. It’s why we’re always excited about the ones who really seem authentic, like they’re not putting on an act for the public. One thing you’ll notice about senior executives is that, when they speak, they’re almost always completely authentic.
Senior executives are rarely worried about whether or not they can impress their listeners, and they certainly don’t try to use lots of big words or buzzwords to overwhelm their listeners.
Instead, they’re quite comfortable being themselves, and this combination of confidence and authenticity is crucial to understanding how to speak like a senior executive.
Authenticity in your communication is actually a surefire way to win over the people who are listening to you. People like authenticity. It draws them in and gets them to trust you implicitly. It’s an inherently, deeply likeable trait that can rally people around you and generate a lot of support for your ideas and your vision.
It also smooths over many potential issues. When you’re completely authentic, people won’t assume that you have a hidden agenda, and they’ll listen to what you have to say more intently. As a result, you’ll be able to communicate more clearly and efficiently.
If you want to speak like a senior executive, speak normally. Feel free to use normal, everyday language. Don’t try to make yourself sound smarter or more important by using words most people don’t understand. Instead, use language that anybody can follow along with.
Most importantly, be yourself. There should be very little difference between who you are at home and who you are in public. Obviously, some things are best kept private, but it should never feel like you’re putting on a performance in the workplace.
Know Your Material
Speaking like an executive requires having a fair bit of knowledge. Executives have to know their stuff, because no one is going to trust an executive who doesn’t.
This is especially true when you’re giving a presentation or a pitch. You need to know all the stats, figures, and data you’ll be presenting by heart so you don’t have to keep flipping through pages or slides to find the appropriate reference.
Every single part of your presentation needs to be more than memorized, it needs to be internalized. You need to know it so well that you can jump in and out of the presentation at any point without missing a beat.
This requires more than studying- it requires practice. Every presentation you give should be rehearsed thoroughly. You should be rehearsing your presentations and pitches so much that you’re sick of them. This is a critical step if you want to learn to speak like a senior executive.
Senior executives overprepare for every presentation and every pitch. They know that they best way to be successful is to be so confident in what you’re saying that no one in the room is going to doubt you when you end with a call to action.
But it goes way beyond just being prepared for your presentations and pitches. You need to be prepared at all times with the information relevant to not only your job, but the jobs of those around you.
A senior executive has to know about everything going on all around them. People will expect them to be knowledgable about everything going in in their area of responsibility, as well as everything about things they have no responsibility over.
So, to speak like a senior executive, you have to be knowlegdable about everything that’s going on in your company. That doesn’t mean you need to know everything, in detail. It means you need at least a high-level understanding of everything that’s happening, even if it’s a project you have no involvement in.
Having that kind of knowledge means that you’re a person who can be brought in to meetings to provide a new perspective on something, and it means you’re somebody who can be relied on to provide insight on a wide range of projects and ideas. Just like a senior executive!
This ties back in with one of the first principles involved in learning how to speak like a senior executive: listening. The best way to learn these things to ask people about what they’re doing, what projects they have going on, and what they’re excited about, and then to listen. Once you start doing this, you’ll be well on your way to speaking like a senior executive.
No doubt you’ve noticed that senior executives never seem to be unsure of themselves, or nervous. They maintain at least the appearance of confidence in all situations. This is important- people get nervous when their leaders don’t seem confident. Confidence among the executives helps to maintain stability and productivity.
In most cases, senior executives aren’t just maintaining the appearance of confidence, they’re genuinely confident. This is not the same thing as cockiness or arrogance. All too often, people think that they can speak like a senior executive by adopting an air of arrogance, and they fail to realize that arrogance is nothing like confidence.
Arrogance breeds resentment, while confidence breeds trust. If you ask an arrogant person a question they don’t know the answer too, they’ll make one up and try to pass it off as real.
They can’t admit that they don’t know the answer, because doing so would be an irreparable blow to their self-esteem.
In contrast, when you ask a confident person a question they don’t know the answer to, they’ll simply tell you they don’t know the answer. They can do this, because they’re confident enough in their position and their ability that they aren’t threatened by the possibility that someone else might have an answer they don’t.
In fact, confidence usually results from knowing your own weaknesses and shortcomings very well. Knowing your limits as well as your strengths means that you can surround yourself with people who compensate for your weaknesses.
Senior executives speak with confidence because they know what they know, and they know what they don’t know. This, of course, ties in with listening and knowing your material. If you’ve developed good listening skills and you have an in-depth knowledge of everything you need to know, you’re going to be naturally confident. Overtime you will become a fearless speaker.
Don’t Beat Around The Bush
If you want to learn how to speak like a senior executive, you’ve got to learn to prioritize information and cut out the fluff. If you’re asking for a budget increase, don’t spend twenty minutes highlighting all the great things your department has done, and what you’d like to achieve in the next year, before asking for more money.
Ask for the budget increase first, and then give all the supporting information. This is much better way of communicating because it ensures that everyone is on the same page right from the beginning. Speaking like a senior executive means valuing clarity and efficiency in your conversations and your presentations.
If you start off by talking about the great things your department has done, it’s not clear what you’re doing. Maybe you’re angling for a raise or a promotion. Maybe you’re just trying to show off. How is the listener supposed to know? Far better to begin by asking for a budget increase, and then demonstrate why your department both needs and deserves a bigger budget.
As an added bonus, when you communicate this way, you also communicate faster.
When you try to slowly build up to your point, it’s going to take you a long time to make your case. When you start off with your point, you can provide the supporting information concisely without weakening your argument.
You’ll also hold the listener’s attention better. Anybody listening to you list off what’s already been accomplished is going to have a hard time focusing, because they’re going to be wondering when you’re getting to the point. They may even be so annoyed by the conversation that they’re predisposed to deny your request.
Conversely, when you speak like a senior executive and lead with the point, you’ve grabbed their attention right from the start. Since it’s clear from the beginning what you’re doing, it’s easier to pay attention to what’s being said, and why.
This might be one of the hardest parts of learning how to speak like a senior executive. We don’t naturally prioritize information like this when we communicate. That’s because, more often than not, when we communicate we’re really thinking out loud. We’re actually processing information in real time.
Prioritizing information in order to speak like a senior executive requires that you plan out your conversation, at least in the beginning. Eventually, you’ll begin to do it naturally and it will become a habit. But while you’re still learning how to speak like a senior executive, you’ll find that you have to really think about your conversations in advance. Ask yourself what it is you want to accomplish, what you’re asking for, or what you’re trying to learn.
Once you figure that out, make it the very first thing you say. You’ll probably find that your communication becomes far more effective, while also becoming faster and more efficient.
Learning how to speak like a senior executive isn’t necessarily hard, it’s just something that most people don’t really think about. It can seem like something that’s not all that important, and so many people focus their professional development goals on other areas.
Those folks are really missing out. Learning how to speak like a senior executive can really make you better at your job, and it can also improve your non-professional life. Communication efficiently and with confidence is a skill set that can benfit you in all kinds of incredible ways, and with the guide we’ve written for you, you’ll be well on your way to speaking like a senior executive.