For 20 years, I’ve been coaching executives on how to handle media interviews, analyst presentations and the occasional appearance before some governmental body. I often begin these sessions by asking the executive to tell me a little something about his or her company – what it does, why people should care. Frequently, when the executive is finished talking, I’m confused.
Being clear and brief is a skill every executive should spend some time cultivating.
Surely, some of the confusion can be attributed to my unfathomable ignorance. But it also doesn’t help when I get something like this for an answer: We’re a systems integrator in the healthcare sector that provides cradle-to-grave solutions for tracking, cataloging, and reporting patient histories.
Okay, so you?
After asking a lot of dumb questions, I’ll find out that the company makes software that gives doctors and nurses bedside access to patient records and that this helps patients get the proper care and keeps hospital costs down.
It’s not just semantics. Being clear and brief is a skill every executive should spend some time cultivating – because you can’t get your customers, investors or even the people you rub elbows with every day to buy your stuff or embrace your vision if they don’t understand what it is exactly they’re buying or embracing.
In the sessions I run, I also spend a fair amount of time grilling executives (the way I did when I was a reporter), to see how they react and respond to criticism about the company. The favored response goes something like this: Yeah, I’d rather not get into that." Or: "That’s something we don’t want to talk about."
I get it. Given the choice, who wouldn’t want to avoid a direct challenge? But here’s the flip side to that argument. We’re often not given the choice. And when you are challenged, it pays (sometimes literally in stock price fluctuations) to be prepared.
Failing to develop answers to the tough questions you hope you never get asked is the surest way to jeopardize your reputation. Because if you’re counting on being able to find the right words when the time comes – you’re kidding yourself.