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Learning the Language of Leadership

Leaders speak a different language. They look with their eyes, ears, and heart. They invest in the people and products they believe will make them successful. I think you can learn the language of leadership, too.

At SxSW, I presented how I have mastered the language of leadership to a packed room. They actually turned people away at the door. You can check out the presentation below.

Three Secrets to Successful Conversations

Successful conversations with executives require planning, presentation, and delivery. All three elements are crucial for your mastery of executive conversations. Let’s briefly review each of them below.


Preparation determines success. Executive talks are not casual conversations. They require precision and planning. In some respects, it is just math:

I spend between 2–4 hours for every 1 minute in an executive presentation.

The activities required to set yourself up for success include:

  • Researching various topics
  • Developing your talking points
  • Creating your slides
  • Priming the executives for your conversation
  • Updating your slides
  • Delivering the presentation
  • Following up

Planning the conversation requires time to prepare. Since you manage your calendar and clock, prepare based on your own needs.


As a general rule, executives want 1 slide for every 5 minutes. The slides are your talking points. Many people get stuck on producing beautiful slides or create too many slides, which can be hard to absorb.

Executives will interrupt you to ask questions about your ideas. You are not giving a scripted presentation or sales demo. They do want to connect with you on a personal level. They do not like hard sales pitches, either.

I use this basic outline to present my ideas to executives:

  • What? The topic I want to discuss. (2 slides)
  • So What? The reasons they should care about this topic. (3–4 slides)
  • Now What? The next steps that I want to do. (2–3 slides)

This basic formula has helped me to focus my conversations during the creation of my slides.


When you deliver your presentation, you need to have executive presence. If you have done your research, they will ask for more clarification. When they do ask questions, you need to be able to read the subtext of their question.

The subtext is really about their own personal motivations. In some cases, the subtext is some additional reassurance that you can handle this part of the problem or opportunity.

Following up is a really important part of continuing the conversation with executives. The delivery of the presentation should be seen as just the opening conversation in an ongoing dialogue with executives.


I hope you take the time look through the slides. Please like them on SlideShare and share with your friends and co-workers. Let me know of some executive presentations you have done.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

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