You have a brilliant idea for your company, and you want to pitch it to the C-suite leaders. You’re already a respected contributor at work, but it can be intimidating to talk to company executives. You’re pretty sure you understand them and have anticipated their needs. Maybe you’ve pitched ideas to executives before, but you were thrown off by an unexpected question—or maybe this is your first time pitching.
How can you ensure that you’ll be heard and taken seriously? Here are five secrets to making a pitch to senior management.
How to Pitch Ideas to an Executive Team
1. Remember “KISS.”
The acronym “KISS” means to keep it is short and simple. Executives face massive time crunches—according to one study from Harvard, the average CEO spends 62.5 hours at work each week. Try to keep your initial presentation brief—about one-third of the total time you have to discuss your project proposal. Save the rest of your time to address questions.
You can also model your approach on the inverted triangle journalists use to write a news article. In a story, the lede or lead paragraph contains the bulk of the information that a reader needs to know. It should also create anticipation and intrigue to keep reading. The article will become more and more detailed as you keep reading, but the main idea is at the top.
Like journalism, you should also keep your language simple. You may be specialized in your field, but senior-level management typically have a broader understanding. So speak their language and focus on the end results.
2. Find a team to help you revise and support your pitch.
Whether you end up in a boardroom with all the executives or discuss your proposal one-on-one at lunch, what you say and how you say it is crucial. Like any major presentation, it helps to practice what you’re going to say.
Find trusted colleagues and team members to look over your pitch and then do some dry rehearsals. Use people to role-play the key leaders and ask them to create questions and disputes. This will help you to not only think on your feet but also show that you’ve thought about your audience and their concerns.
Strict time limits? Learn how to perfect an elevator pitch.
3. Keep a narrow focus.
Research from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas shows when employees come up with a simple solution, managers are more apt to listen.
Specifically, they studied employees at an emergency room who fell into two groups. One group was professionally-focused and took pride in the quality of their work. They came up with ideas such as staffing more nurses continuously and increasing the number of beds. While productive, these solutions are expensive and involve multiple departments for approval.
The other group was workplace-focused and identified more improvements with their team and direct environment. They came up with solutions that weren’t as involved or needed approval from higher-ups, like building a partition in the waiting room. They had a better understanding of how their workplace functioned and what resources were available. In turn, management took their ideas more seriously.
As you prepare your pitch, ask yourself: is this an idea that just one person could easily implement without having to confer with other people? Have you thought about available resources and the company-wide impact?
4. Find an influential cheerleader.
Your idea may have been rigorously researched, rehearsed, and prepared, but you still have to navigate the corporate hierarchy. An influential sponsor can help you cut through red tape, get past the gatekeepers, and give your idea a fighting chance.
This sponsor could be your direct manager, mentor, or colleague in a lateral position. This person should know the executive team’s personalities and how they like to process information. Maybe the CFO wants just the numbers, but the CEO likes to hear the narrative, for example.
Someone in your corner should help you prepare and attend the meeting, if possible. They can also give feedback on how the pitch lands.
5. Stay cool.
If you’ve practiced, researched, found your sponsor, and narrowed the focus of your idea, it’s time to go for it. Be relaxed and confident that you’ve done everything to prepare—you understand your audience, and you’re supported by people who believe in you.
During your presentation, don’t take tough questions personally. When people ask questions, that demonstrates engagement. If you’re unsure about how to respond, don’t try to bluff your way through. “Let me get back to you on that. I’ll find out,” shows thoughtfulness and respect for other people’s perspectives.
Ultimately, senior-level executives want to improve the bottom line of their companies. If you come up with a pitch that gets to the point quickly, uses accessible language, and has practical applications, your idea could become a reality.
Ready to pitch ideas to your boss? Read our five recommendations for talking with C-level executives.