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How I Communicate with Leaders

It’s time to present your business plan or product strategy to your leadership. You’ve prepared too many slides, and you’ve started to realize all the slides have too many words. Besides, you know they're gonna jump ahead to see the financials and ignore pretty much everything else.

How do you get and keep their attention?

Tell a story.

I start almost every presentation with a story that illustrates the point I want to make.

Those who have had a training class with me probably remember the “Justin” story. I had dinner with a colleague and her husband. After listening to us lament the frustrations of dealing with product teams and company leadership, he asked, “How do you deal with the stress?”

Here's the kicker: He had been a police officer.

I said, “How can product management seem stressful to you? You were a cop!”

“Well,” he said, “in my line of work, we have training, we have procedures, and we have backup. You don’t seem to have any of those.”

The story is a nice setup to explain the scope of product management, the processes, the roles, and how to keep others informed. (Sound interesting? Check out our free on-demand course called The Roles of Product Management.)

What product story can you tell your leaders that makes your point?

Tell a story about the problem.

In my work today, many ask if I have been bugging their offices because my stories reflect their daily lives. They relate to the story about job-related stress; they recognize “Kevin, the world’s worst salesperson,” and “Poor Meghan, the product owner in a feature factory.”

Years ago, I was working with a product manager who was planning a solution for people with dementia. He told a few really upsetting stories about parents who went missing for days! The developers, marketers, salespeople, and executives became impassioned about solving the problem and fast-tracked the solution to market.

Sales and marketing people love stories.

But not everyone wants only a story. Some need more.

Developers don’t trust a story; they trust data. (“Of the about 55 million people worldwide with dementia, 60% to 70% are estimated to have Alzheimer's disease.”)

Finance people don’t trust a story; they trust formulas. Another word for formula is process. Show them your work. What process did you use to arrive at your conclusions? (“We used research from the Mayo Clinic…”)

Here’s what I generally prepare for a leadership presentation.

No slides.

I start with a story about one person with a problem (“My dad wandered away…”). I support it with a statistic (“It affects about 33 million…”) I explain my research methods related to the problem (“Research from the Mayo Clinic…”)

I share a one-page product brief with personas, problems, a description of the opportunity, and expected sources of costs and revenues.

I give them time to read it. Without commentary. When they’re finished reading, I can lead a discussion.

Product Brief

After a discussion on the brief, I often present a roadmap. A series of phases of learning, design, and delivery. Without dates. When you’re asking for approval to proceed with an idea, you have no idea of the scope or the resources, so dates are impossible to provide. But the roadmap, too, tells a story. (“We can start helping people if we begin with this basic offering soon and this one later,…”)

Finally, share a financial plan. Created with (or by!) someone from the finance department. So the finance head will support the financials.


1.     Start with a story.

2.     Explain your findings and your call to action—your “ask.”

3.     Then, share these documents, one at a time—the story, product brief, roadmap, and financials. Most people cannot read while someone is talking, so let them read them. Without talking.

"Never miss a good chance to shut up." — Will Rogers, American humorist

In a 30-minute meeting, you should be talking less than your leaders. Plan 3 to 5 minutes for the opening. 10 minutes for reading your documents. 10 minutes discussing the documents. And 5 minutes to wrap up.

As every marketer knows, you need to speak to your audience in a language they understand. Sales = stories; Development = data; Finance = formula.

Stories put the information in context. Data explains that you’re describing a market problem, not a single customer’s problem. Formulas show that you follow a process to reach your conclusions.


You might also be interested in downloading our free eBook, The Business Role of Product Management.

The Business Role of Product Management. Improve the business performance of your products.



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