Say it So They Will Listen: 3 Tactics for Holding Decision-Makers’ Attention


Deliver the bottom line up front.  Busy executives and critical thinkers need to know where an argument is going in order to evaluate the merit.  This is a variation on the inverted pyramid (below left) used in journalism.  Don’t bury the lead.  Put the most important information up front.  For most knowledge management projects the delivery would look like the list on the right below.



Recommendations and Conclusions

Key Benefits

Supporting documentation and background


2. Clearly state the benefits

Executives, managers, clients, and coworkers face any number of challenges on a given day.  If your message addresses one of their problems, you are likely to gain their attention.  Give your listeners a reason to care.

Answer the question “what’s in it for me?” and you’ll have their attention.

State how your recommendations will make your clients look smarter, beat the competition, add shareholder value, enhance creativity,  avoid risk, or increase productivity.

Benefits tend to read like this:

  • Once these recommendations are implemented you will have at your fingertips access to the latest scientific literature needed to write your next grant proposal.
  • Once these recommendations are implemented the company will have a process in place that will reduce the risk of copyright violations and advance the culture of knowledge sharing across the enterprise.
  • Once these recommendations are implemented we will minimize worker frustration and shorten the time required to identify internal expertise.

Give your listeners a reason to care by clearly answering the “what’s in it for me?” question.

3.  Keep it short

For better or for worse, busy executives have short attention spans.  Go on too long and their minds will inevitably move to the next agenda item.  Once you’ve delivered the bottom line and the benefits, wrap it up.  Move on to the action item. For instance point to next steps or state the decision you need from them in order to proceed.  Save your background data, methodology, and documentation for the questions and answers section.

Figure on holding the executives’ attention for about 7-10 minutes.  Five slides in a slidedeck is fairly typical in presentations to executives and other decision-makers.

Once you’ve delivered the bottom line and described the benefits, move on to the action item.

BLUF,  state the benefits, and keep it short.  These three tactics will help you maximize the value of your time in front of decision-makers.