In other posts, we’ve discussed the challenges of getting the attention of top executives.

But there’s a caveat: You need to know how to present these arguments to CEOs and other C-suite people so as to maximize your chances of being heard. A raw data dump usually won’t work; nor will a long, number-filled report without an executive summary.

To help you make the most of your talk with a top exec, consider these do’s and don’ts:


  • Frame your message in terms of how it will reduce risk, improve the bottom line or affect the organization’s future.
  • Remember the CEO’s main interest is optimizing the business’s resources, and your proposal should show him/her how HR can help meet that goal.
  • Speak the language of the CEO, appropriately using appropriate terms like ROI, operating profit, operating expenses, cash flow, and the like.


  • Get stuck in the present. The CEO is thinking about where the business will be in three months, six months, five years. If you come in yakking about the fire you’re putting out today, you’ll risk appearing trivial.
  • Overload your message with detail. Yes, HR often has to think about step-by-step processes. But don’t bring that level of detail to the C-suite table. Their attitude: You’re paid to take care of the nitty-gritty.
  • Beat around the bush. Talking to the CEO is like nothing else. This executive is juggling multiple priorities and must see immediate value in what you’re bringing to him/her. Otherwise, (s)he’ll tune you out in the blink of an eye.

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