In a time when company communication patterns and practices are evolving to reach an ever-more remote or hybrid work culture, effective executive communication is a must.

What is executive communications

Great top-level communication—that is, communication from the CEOs, CFOs, presidents, VPs and others in leadership positions—can boost company morale, bring disparate teams into alignment, help individuals retain feedback, offer transparency, cut out broken telephone-style miscommunication, and ultimately steer organizations towards executing their goals. 

While it sounds simple, there are reasons why so many corporate leaders fail when it comes to effective communication. 

First, it’s hard to find the time to plan and share feedback and give updates on top of an already full plate of work. Second, it’s far easier to stay in the inner-circle mindset and expect that the information you share will simply cascade to the rest of the team. 

Radio silence from leadership is no longer tenable in a workplace full of video conferences, Slack messages, quickly fired-off emails, and groggy morning huddles. 

To find out just what executive communications are, why it’s important and how to do it effectively, read on.

The difference between executive communications and internal communications

Executive communications is part of an organization’s greater internal communications strategy, with one crucial differentiating detail—it involves communications from your executive team. And while executive communications is a branch of internal communications, it encompasses both internal and external audiences.

“The legacy definition of executive comms is a speech writer, but it is so much more than that. What remains is that it transcends internal and external communications.”
Matt Anchin, Head of Communications at Vime

Executive communications can be written, verbal, or virtual; synchronous or asynchronous. They can be casual or formal, but the general goals are the same: strengthen trust, align expectations, offer feedback, mitigate conflict and establish meaningful direction.

“Executive communications is one of the few pure play communications disciplines that requires straddling two audiences at all times, internal and external, far more so than media relations, and while every internal communication should be considered external, still more executive comms is about a singular voice.”
Matt Anchin, Head of Communications at Vimeo

In most companies, the executive team is fully responsible and accountable for their communications. However, according to Vimeo’s 2020 State of Workplace Communications report, leaders were 20% more likely to rate their executive communications highly in comparison to their employees. Executive teams were also generally more optimistic than employees about their ability to lead and unify teams through the challenges of COVID-19.

Even with the best intentions, leaders are still overestimating the impact and effectiveness of their communications strategies, which threatens overall productivity, company satisfaction, and retention. 

If leadership teams don’t examine their executive communications strategies, those expectation gaps will widen. Gen Z and Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 and these cohorts expect more transparency and higher frequency of communication from their employers. 

In other words, those days of executive lunches and corner offices far from the rest of the company have gone the way of the dinosaurs—and that’s a good thing, both for company morale and ability to respond to challenges heading into the future. And with so many communication tools like video available, it has never been easier for the C-suite to connect and collaborate with their employees.

How to create an executive communication plan

Executive communications are very frequently thought of as a one-way street. Often the content that comes from the top (like updates or directives) don’t require a response from everyone on your team. Another reason is that, frankly, bosses can be intimidating and, if not intimidating, then at least very busy. So why would a team member initiate a conversation with their superior (or superior’s superior) unless they absolutely have to? 

To lay down the groundwork for true collaboration, you need an executive communication plan. In these next few paragraphs, we’ll outline how to best approach your leadership team’s communications and maximize engagement.

Observe how people interact with you

Do people tend to hush up when you enter a room, whether a chat or a video meeting? When you ask if there are any questions, do you often get crickets? Improving your executive communications begins with examining your executive presence—specifically noting how comfortable people outside your leadership team act around you. 

One simple way of gauging how people respond to your presence is simply asking for feedback from a trusted member of your team on what they’ve noticed in meetings and what improvements you could make. Once you know where your baseline is, you’ll have a clear path forward on making sure your presence is felt, but not feared.

“The fundamentals of a strong communications strategy remain the same: know your audience and go where they are.”
Matt Anchin, Head of Communications at Vimeo

Take advantage of the tools available to you

For people in leadership positions, it’s up to them to make sure that they’re communicating in the way that makes their coworkers feel most comfortable. Tools – like video – can enable that.

Live streaming a town hall or all hands meetings is a great way to align global teams. A quick, executive video recording sent via email can also help leaders reach distributed employees and teams across time zones.

Record, create, and edit your videos – all in one platform

With our Vimeo Record screen recorder tool, you can begin the video making process with a crystal clear recording of your desktop screen – great for making presentations, tutorials, and more!

“The future of executive communications is absolutely going to be about finding ways to incorporate video. It’s how we have become accustomed to communicating all the time — I don’t mean Zoom. I mean TikToc and Twitch and Snap and Instagram. It’s how we communicate with friends and family. We see these methods already infiltrating the business world, with short bursts of asynchronous video.”
Matt Anchin, Head of Communications at Vimeo

Sending a quick survey that asks how individual team members prefer to receive feedback and conducting 1:1s—and then respecting and responding to their answers—will not just establish trust and personalization but also open up opportunities for future collaboration.

If your schedule doesn’t permit full-on 1:1s with each individual employee, you can still make sure they receive the same level of personalization by pre-recording a video to deliver your feedback and updates on projects. You’ll be able to do this when you have a moment to spare and your recipient can view it on their own time and save it for future reference.

An open mind can help you match the right medium to deliver your message so you can communicate in an authentic, engaging way.

“We have so much information coming at us all day long. That means a strong executive communicator and a strategy requires efficiency and nuance. No one has the time to sit back and be spoken to today. You need to get information out fast in an engaging way.”
Matt Anchin, Head of Communications at Vimeo

Set expectations

As much as we all want to maintain open-door policies, in the remote world that could easily lead to the constant pinging of Slack messages, emails and video check-ins. Or worse—total silence, because nobody knows when or how to reach you. 

When it comes to opening lines of communication, commit to what’s manageable for your schedule. This could be an hour a week of office hours, emailed lists of questions that you can get to when you have time, a weekly huddle, or simply letting people know to tag you in conversations in Slack or Asana when needed—whatever it looks like, make sure it’s also known to everyone at your organization. 

Setting these protocols and expectations not only helps keep you accountable for maintaining communication, it does so in a way that makes it easier for people to get in touch.

Know who to talk to

In other words, step outside the chain of command and get answers from specialists, rather than other leaders. If you have a question about one aspect of a larger project, go directly to the person who is carrying out the task, rather than asking the person in charge of the project for a high-level answer. 

By bypassing the executive suite and tapping individual specialists for knowledge and information, you can not only get a clearer answer faster, and identify rising stars within your company.

Make space for informality

In the remote world, where everyone is reduced to avatars on a screen and heads floating in home offices, guest rooms, and dining rooms, we all have to work together and make sense of what’s going on. So why not have a little fun and actually socialize with your teammates?

Attending virtual lunches, happy hours and coworking or networking sessions; participating in hobby groups like book clubs and fantasy football leagues, or even just chatting in the #Casual channels on your team’s Slack or Discord can help build trust, boost morale, and keep a remote team unified. 

When it comes to executive communications, just by showing up, you’re over halfway there.

Executive communications FAQ

What are executive communication skills?

Executive communication skills include:

  • Active listening 
  • Empathy
  • Ability to work collaboratively with different types of specialists and employees
  • Communicating clearly and patiently
  • Quickly adapting to different modes of communication
What does an executive communications manager do?

Executive communications managers help facilitate communication between top-level executives and employees across the company. They help create and execute communications plans, oversee internal communications teams and help with messaging and promotion of brand and company values.

How do high level executives communicate?

High-level executives have a responsibility to offer transparency to employees and exercise active listening when it comes to receiving feedback. A communication plan is key to keeping executives accountable for maintaining transparency and boosting overall company satisfaction.

How do executives communicate?

Nowadays, there’s no set protocol for how executives communicate, except to do so in a way that is the most accessible to employees. Ideally that includes a combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication, such as live streaming meetings, real time video and chat, recorded feedback, email, and a library of on-demand content. The most important piece is that executives are able to remain transparent in their process, creative in their problem-solving, and empathetic when it comes to delivering feedback or responding to workplace challenges.

Engage your employees with a video library