CMO

What’s your 15 second story?

At some point you’re going to bump in to someone you want to impress at work. It might be in the elevator, getting a coffee, or across a table while you’re both waiting for a meeting to commence. You’re not sure if you should say something and then they look over to you and ask ‘so how’s it going?’

If anyone with a ‘C’ or ‘GM’ in their title asks ‘how’s it going?’ they’re not asking you about your cat, or weekend, or recent holiday, they’re being polite and filling a few seconds and this is your chance to tell them something great that’s happening that they’re unlikely to know about.

A great 15 second story should cover off five key things:

1. Never assume they know what you’re talking about. A detailed answer full of technical terms, or assuming they know about your project in detail, is not helpful. You won’t have time to explain all the details or bring them up to speed on the history of the project so that your reply will make sense. Wrap your answer up to a high level view they’ll care about.

2. Make sure you include your boss or your team in your reply.We’ve‘ and ‘we‘ sounds a lot better than ‘I‘. The C-level exec wants to know the department is sound. Every team has a few particularly bright sparks, but the C-level exec wants to know that while there’s progress and innovation there’s harmony too. They also want reassurance your boss is across what’s happening – that you’re not running off and being a lone-wolf . You never know what they might share and with whom, which brings us to a crucial point,

3. Don’t say anything which can’t be backed up. It’s flattering you have a few seconds of this exec’s time but don’t make things up. Avoid the temptation to ‘creatively expand’ the truth or build something up beyond its true value. Maybe you’ve had a win recently stream-lining a process or are taking new things to market but making big statements such as ‘we’re going to change the whole company with this!’ or ‘it’s going to change the whole industry’ are, in a C-level’s mind, either bullshit or something they should have been across well before this 15 second chat – neither of which make your boss or you look great.

4. You never have problems, you have opportunities. The C-level exec has enough problems to solve for each day, this 15 second discussion is not the time to bring up another one. They’re already managing profitability, market share and shareholder challenges, there are proper channels for dealing with smaller HR issues, or that ‘it’s cold today’ or that you need more funding for Project XYZ (everyone always needs more funding, now is not the time to tell them you need more too). Real problems should be escalated properly.

5. They can’t solve anything for you right now. This is just a 15 second discussion, they’re not asking ‘how’s it going?’ so they can try and solve your biggest problem, they’re not writing down your answer and going to make it their top priority to solve for you. They want a good news story so be accurate in your reply and give them some.

So what should a great 15 seconds story sound like? Just one example is below.

Q: “Hey Jim, how’s it going?”

A: “Hey Sam, it’s going really well thanks. The team and I are just about to launch a great campaign, it’s tested well, we have a great baseline plan and we’re going to be trying some new things in market too. We’re very positive. How’re you?”

It’s a great reply because the C-level exec now knows: 1. Things are great and the team is working collaboratively towards a goal and you’re a part of it. 2. You haven’t given them percentages or baffled them with numbers (big or small)  3. What’s about to be in market – representing the whole company – has been mitigated for risk and done well (C-levels love a more sure bet) and, 4. The company is being innovative but off a good baseline that will get the company the majority of the way there anyway.