Be More Concise for Effective Executive Communication

#executivepresence Jun 12, 2024
DIKW model

TLDR: To advance to senior roles your executive communication skills need to be superb - among them your ability to be concise. Here are 4 pitfalls you must avoid.

"You need to be more concise!"

If you're aiming to move from senior manager into executive positions, chances are high that you've have received this feedback. It's quite commonly given to women who are working to make that transition.

This came to mind recently when a woman who has been through the precursor to the Business Savvy YOU! course (covering business, financial and strategic acumen) told me about feedback she received from an unsuccessful application for an internal promotion.

She received positive feedback that she was recognized for and demonstrated during the interview:

  • Strong leadership skills - with her teams and when stepping up to an "acting" position

  • Strategic acumen - demonstrated in her position, when stepping into the "acting" role

  • Track record of consistently achieving or exceeding expected outcomes

(Humble brag: Business Savvy YOU! helped her enhance her skills in all 3 areas.)

However, she was told she didn't get the promotion because she needed to:

  • Be more concise in her communication

The Importance of Being Concise

In every leadership program I've given to women who want to step from senior manager to junior executive (e.g. from senior manager to director or director to VP depending on the size of the organization), I've delivered a segment on executive communication. Every single executive guest speaker for these segments has highlighted the importance of being concise. Executives are busy! Clear concise communications are a boon to their existence.

When Beverly Behan advises briefing executives who present to the board and create board materials, she makes the same point. She advises that presentations be structured by starting with the actionable information/recommendation/point for board discussion and saving the details for the appendices - where they can be accessed if needed.

Anett Grant and colleagues conducted research into gender differences in the presentations of executive women and men. Using videotaped presentations about their achievements (neutral topic) they identified and analyzed specific behaviors. Among their fascinating findings is that women tended to undermine their accomplishments by "talking more and saying less."

NOTE: The information that follows is most relevant when you are presenting to people at levels higher than you.

3 Pitfalls = Talking More and Saying Less

If you have received feedback that you need to "be more concise," you might be falling into one or more of these traps:

  1. Not discerning between data, information, knowledge and wisdom. (DIKW)

  2. Feeling required to prove competence/worth

  3. Making the same point more than once.


I'm embarrassed to tell you how long ago I was exposed to DIKW (great resource here). I learned it from an IBM exec who talked about data being the ingredients, information being the dough, knowledge being like a loaf of bread and wisdom being the evocative scent of bread wafting from the bakery. I ate up the idea - pun intended!

Here's a summary right from the link above:

  • "Data refers to raw, unprocessed facts and figures without context. It is the foundation for all subsequent layers but holds limited value in isolation.

  • Information is organized, structured, and contextualized data. Information is useful for answering basic questions like "who," "what," "where," and "when."

  • Knowledge is the result of analyzing and interpreting information to uncover patterns, trends, and relationships. It provides an understanding of "how" and "why" certain phenomena occur.

  • Wisdom is the ability to make (or recommend or present) well-informed decisions and take (or recommend or present) effective action based on understanding of the underlying knowledge."

Being able to analyze what you want to say in order to separate the wheat from the chaff (so to speak) or the data, information, knowledge from the wisdom/actionable recommendations is essential in order to speak more concisely.

Proving Worth

Women and marginalized men often feel the need to prove that they belong in their seat at the table - and you might feel this way. As a result you might tell the whole long story of how hard you worked to get to the significant point. The idea being that how hard you've worked is a testament to your competence.

This is not true and brings to mind one of my favorite quotes (author unknown):

"Nobody cares the storms you encounter, they only care did you bring in the ship."

To an executive audience, the actionable recommendation, main point being made - i.e. wisdom - is proof of worth MUCH more so than the story leading up to it.


Women and marginalized men frequently experience being unheard or misheard. If this describes your experience you might, as a defense, make the same point in multiple ways when you have the floor. This is extremely frustrating to the busy executive who wants to clearly understand the action that's being recommended, the caution being voiced, the options being laid on the table.

What's a Woman to Do?

Here are steps you can take to avoid any of the 3 pitfalls and enhance your executive communication skills.

  1. Learn to discriminate between data, information, knowledge and wisdom. Study the model and analyze presentations upcoming and/or past until you understand how to lead with wisdom/action.

  2. Use recorded presentations, ask a trusted ally for feedback or catch yourself in-the-moment to identify when you're telling the background story rather than getting straight to the point. Create a plan for doing that less often when speaking up the organization.

  3. Use recorded presentations, ask a trusted ally or catch yourself in-the-moment to identify when you're making the same point in multiple ways. Develop strategies to condense and clarify so that you're making your points once, concisely and clearly.

Here's to your successful executive communication.

Catch you next time!


Addendum: A call today reminded me of a 4th pitfall - "Missing the Yes." Sometimes because women expect to hear "No" we miss the "Yes." We keep talking in order to deflect attention from the bold suggestion/request we've made or to remake the case because we didn't hear the "Yes." 

Learn to listen for, hear and accept the "Yes" and not talk past it.


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