How to Give Presentation Feedback So Your CEO Will Listen


If a company is a ship, the CEO is the captain, but she’s also the figurehead—the face of the company. As such, she’s constantly under pressure to shape its reputation and standing with key stakeholders, including customers, employees, investors, and community members. And the way the CEO communicates with those stakeholders drives their perceptions of the company as a whole.

So what if there’s a gap in her communication skills?

Perhaps she strikes just the right cords with external stakeholders but struggles to inspire employees. Or maybe she can deliver a world-class keynote but clams up when it’s time for the Q&A.

Whatever the weak spot, the communications team hasn’t had any luck helping her improve, for any of several reasons. Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s Thanks for the Feedback breaks those reasons down into three triggers (truth, relationship, and identity) that cause us to reject feedback based on its substance, our relationship with the giver, or on our own personal reactions to the feedback.


Whatever the trigger or reason—whether the CEO doesn’t believe she needs help or doesn’t trust opinions from her team or outside coaches, or the communications team can’t pinpoint the exact problem—traditional communication improvement methods just aren’t working.

But advances in technology have enabled these struggling communications teams to compile and deliver objective, data-driven feedback that resonates with CEOs, helps them pinpoint their most critical development areas, and paves the way for lasting improvement.

3 Ways Data-Driven Communication Evaluations make it Easier for Communications Teams to Give Feedback

These science-based evaluations arm communications teams with the data they need to approach CEOs with feedback in a way that ensures they’ll listen.

1. The feedback style fits the CEO’s data-driven mentality

For decades, researchers from Paul Meehl to John Bogle to Daniel Kahneman have been proving and reproving that algorithms beat humans at decision making the majority of the time.

So in today’s algorithm-driven business world, executives no longer rely on opinions or feelings to make decisions—they look for data. So while subjective feedback from a communications team, or even traditional coaching, may feel too “soft” for a quantitatively oriented executive who relies on numbers to make every other business decision, data can make a real difference.

Quantified Communications’ VP of Executive Communication, Briar Goldberg, has found that for many clients who struggled with the old, numbers-free coaching method, the addition of objective data can be a true game changer. When the feedback is delivered in the speaker’s language—numbers—the speaker makes more lasting improvements, much faster.

2. With third-party insights, the communications team becomes the CEO’s ally

When Goldberg was teaching public speaking without data, she often found it difficult to inspire clients to embrace solutions when she’d just given them bad news—your delivery needs work—herself. Clients would often take her evaluations personally, dwelling on the negatives rather than trusting her solutions.

In the same way, communications teams often find that even the most constructive criticism puts their executives on the defense, creating a “me versus you” dynamic.

But when Goldberg is armed with data, she can become the client’s ally and let the numbers deliver the tough love:

“Now, with objective data, the more difficult messages feel less personal, less confrontational. This allows me to build my relationships off of solutions and progress.”

Communications teams that use data to deliver feedback have found the same to be true. This approach puts you and your CEO on the same team, leading to more productive work and much faster progress.

3. The CEO can track trends and progress

After finishing a keynote or wrapping up a meeting, an executive may have some notions about how it went, and a traditional coach or support team can confirm those intuitions.

However, it’s difficult to compare this speech to previous ones based solely on our own memories and impressions. After all, our own perceptions are liable to be affected by our moods on any given day. And, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, our memories aren’t set in stone. Part of a talk that rubbed us the wrong way in the moment may seem like no big deal later, or something we found particularly powerful may lose its luster the next week.

So when a CEO asks how the latest speech went, and whether it was better than the last one, the feedback may be fuzzy.

But when the communications team throws data into the mix, it’s suddenly much easier to look back at historical performance, track progress, and even identify ongoing opportunities for improvement.

Because, while opinions may evolve and memories may shift, the numbers never change.