3 ideas for cutting the time it takes to prepare your communication

3 ideas for cutting the time it takes to prepare your communication

As I was packing my bags to return to Sydney I realised there was a parallel between my packing process and communicating.

Really?

Read on or skip to the three ideas at the bottom for the ‘TLDR'.

Packing for the return trip was vastly easier than when we left for our one month away.

On the way out it was quite an effort.

I wasn't sure what the weather would be like: the forecast kept changing for the Pacific North West, so it seemed smart to be ready for anything.

I also wasn't sure exactly what we would be doing. Did I need mainly casual clothes, or to factor in some smarter nights out? How much hiking would we do? Not sure.

I was also in a rush as I left it late to pack.

The answer was to think carefully – and quickly – about multi-purposing and coordinating each item.

This meant items went in and out of the bag, and quite a few things were added at the last minute.

This made for a full looking bag that wasn't as organised as it could have been.

The reason it was easier to pack for the return was that there was no more thinking to do.

I knew exactly what to pack.

Unsurprisingly, the bag is neater and looks less ‘stuffed' too.

But … what on earth does this have to do with preparing communication?

We encourage clients to separate thinking from writing and ‘PowerPoint-ing' to ensure the end communication works.

This way, the ideas in the final communication aren't ‘thrown in' anywhere, the story isn't overstuffed with excess baggage with the overall message being muddled.

When the thinking is done, it's super easy to ‘pack' ideas into a well-synthesised, logical and engaging piece of communication.

To that end, here are three ideas to help you nail your thinking so it is super fast to prepare a high-quality document.


  1. Consider your first draft (possibly several) to be written for yourself, not your audience.
  2. Commit to containing the high-level messaging to a single page before you prepare any final documents.
  3. Socialise that one-pager with peers and key stakeholders before you prepare your document.


That's right … nail the messaging before you open the Board paper template, PowerPoint … or whatever medium you are using.

If you would like to learn about the thinking skills that we teach to help you distil your ideas into a single page, join my upcoming Thinking Skills Workshop.

>> Learn more here.

I hope that helps. More next week.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Making time work FOR us not AGAINST us

Making time work FOR us not AGAINST us

Do you always have too much to do?

It's not entirely surprising since our only finite resource, time, is at the heart of the challenge.

Unsurprisingly, this is a pretty constant topic when coaching people on their communication.

How do we find enough time to think through our communication? How do we know when to prioritise thinking through a particular piece … or when ‘smashing it out' is the right strategy?

It's also top of mind for me as I head off for a month away on Tuesday. Yes, a month.

So, today I wanted to focus on ‘time' and share some ways to help us all take advantage of it rather than be held hostage to it.

I'd like to suggest we can ‘hack' time to enhance our work and our life by harnessing two thinking modes.  This might be an odd idea, but let me give you the high-level first and then work through it in three parts.

  1. Two familiar thinking modes that we already use to allow time to do our work for us.
  2. Several modern writers offer ways for us to capitalise on the under-utilised ‘diffuse thinking' mode to enrich our work and life.
  3. So, with that background I'd like to share some of my own thinking on taking advantage of these two thinking modes in work and life


I'll now expand on each of these further.

Two familiar thinking modes that we already use to allow time to do our work for us. Let me introduce them both:

  1. Focused thinking, which is what we commonly imagine as ‘working'. This involves diving deeply into a task and as the name suggests, focusing on it. This is when we are actively reading, thinking, solving something specific. It can play out as time alone or time collaborating with others to complete a task.
  2. Diffused thinking, which I suggest most of us don't make nearly enough use of. This is the thinking that happens while we sleep, are out walking the dog, cooking dinner or perhaps in the shower. It's those non-focused times when our brain is processing in the background. It's also the times when breakthrough ideas often emerge. How often have you had the ‘aha' moment at a seemingly random point?


I first learned about these from Barbara Oakley in her Coursera course, Learning How to Learn. You may also find this free course enjoyable.

Several modern writers offer ways for us to capitalise on the under-utilised ‘diffuse thinking' mode to enrich our work and life.

Without necessarily using this language, they all seem to me to be taking advantage of diffuse thinking mode.  

Greg McKeown has written two excellent books on this subject. The subtitles for each sum up the key ideas:

  1. Effortless: Make it easier to do what matters most 
  2. Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less 

Cal Newport of Deep Work fame offers ideas to avoid distractions so we can focus properly when at work and switch off when not. There is overlap between his work and Greg McKeown's, but I have found both to be great reads.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang takes the ideas further and discusses the increasingly popular shorter work week. Again, his title and subtitle are instructive: Shorter: how working less will revolutionise the way you get things done. 

His thesis is that if we focus harder during a shorter time period we are forced to change the way we work which he says is a good thing.  This will force us to become both more efficient and more effective. We will change the systems we use, the way we use our time and help us deliver more over all.

He reinforces the idea that the extra time off helps us be happier and healthier. The beauty is that our time away from the office allows our ideas to ‘marinate' while we aren't ‘working'.   

These are not the only people talking about these issues, but ones that I have read and enjoyed. All offer ways to rebalance their use of focused and diffused thinking in their lives.

So, with that background I'd like to share some of my own thinking on taking advantage of these two thinking modes in work and life.

Firstly, in work, particularly where problem solving and communication are involved.

Many of my clients leave thinking about their communication to the last minute. They want to finish their analysis first and then are understandably squeezed as the deadline looms. Or they don't have enough information about the communication context to start and so leave it until they have no choice but to begin.

As an alternative, I suggest this five step strategy to help us start thinking early so we can take advantage of these two thinking modes.

  1. Start the thinking early even if you don't write much until the paper is due. It may be that your ideas haven't fully formed yet. Getting started early will push you to start pondering about exactly what is needed, without making you work overly hard.
  2. Involve others in a quick conversation before you write anything. We call this a roadmapping session. Our goal is to think through the purpose and audience collaboratively so we can get our heads around the communication context.
  3. Follow with short bursts of focused activity to draft the one-page storyline. One Clarity First member sets 30 minutes at the start of the day to get as much as he can done for major papers. Then he leaves it until the next appointment he has made with himself. This way he makes progress, isn't stressed by the deadline and can allow the ideas to marinate in the background.
  4. Iterate around the one-pager until the messaging lands.  
  5. Finally, prepare your doc or deck.  


Secondly, in life. Now, this one is going to be different for everyone as demands on us and our life stages vary. I could be general here, but the authors I mentioned have offered good quality advice on the subject so I'll avoid that.

Instead, I'll explain why you won't be hearing from me for the coming few weeks. I'm taking July as a mix of holiday and sabbatical.

My husband and I are heading away for a month to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and to catch up with our 22 year old who has recently moved to New York.

We'll be taking the first couple of weeks away as a ‘proper vacation' and then using the second half of the break as a sabbatical. This will give us time and space to reimagine our life and work.

On my side, I'll be thinking about two things in particular:

  1. Progressing a project around ‘big picture thinking' and ‘synthesis'. A group of advanced Clarity First members and I have been working on practical tools to help people make the leap between summary and synthesis. Taking this to the next stage will require both focus and ‘marination'!
  2. Optimising the Clarity First strategy. The intensity of my workload during the covid period has not allowed for much of this kind of thinking and planning. I am very much looking forward to thinking more deeply about the way forward for the business. It has been an exciting couple of years as my online programs have become more interesting to clients. I want to capture the learnings and optimise the program further.
So, I often close with something like ‘more next week'.

Not this time!

I look forward to popping back into your inboxes in August.

Kind regards,
Davina




PS – If you are keen to further your learning over the coming month, you are welcome to take advantage other materials on our website. Here are some ideas:

Free course – How to Communicate with Impact. This four module course offers some foundational thinking about how to think differently about your communication. Learn more here.

Paid courseClarity First Express. This 11 module self-directed course covers the key ideas we offer during the Clarity First program. We offer you a discount code on completion that enables you to ‘upgrade' into the Clarity First program to receive help with putting the ideas into practice. Learn more here.

More than 100 posts on a large range of communication and leadership topics.  Click here to visit and use the search categories on the RHS to find posts that interest you. Learn more here.

 

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Why thinking and writing don’t mix

Why thinking and writing don’t mix

I was reminded this week of why thinking and writing don't mix if you want to deliver impact at work.

It's great if you want to keep a journal, write a novel or perhaps some poetry.

But, bear with me.

I do believe writing helps us clarify our thinking.

But I also think writing to think inside a doc or a deck makes for poor business communication.

Communication quality is further reduced by socializing your document with others.


Let me offer three reasons why I believe ‘thinking' into a document leads to cluttered communication that takes far too long to deliver value.

Clarity of messaging is compromised as we seek useful input from others. In today's busy world, messaging must jump off the page the minute someone opens an email, paper or PowerPoint.

Asking stakeholders to review lengthy docs or decks leads to a mess of track changes that focus on the minutiae rather than the substance.

Quality of insight is hard to coalesce into a cohesive argument. If you draft your ideas inside an email, a doc or a deck you will naturally wander all over the place. Your thinking will evolve some here, some there as ideas form. The structure of your story and the quality of your messaging will wander likewise.

Velocity is nearly impossible. By velocity I mean the speed with which you can create your communication, with which your audience can digest it and then make a decision. When my clients skip using a one-page storyline they frequently see at least three problems. They see extensive rework, delayed decisions and lots of last minute scrambling to ‘fix' their docs and decks.

As one CEO said to me recently:

“We chose to introduce your storylining method as it offered a system we could replicate across the business.”
“Iterating 16 times around a Board paper just doesn't make business sense.”
Now I receive a stack of one-pagers and spend 15 minutes reviewing each one before offering substantive feedback to the team.”
“The team then uses this to finesse their messaging before they quickly prepare their documents.”
“Our Board and SLT papers have improved out of sight”.



Early Bird registrations for Clarity First close this coming Sunday, June 19th.

>> Click here to learn more.

I hope to see you there.

Warmly,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

PowerPoint or prose…?

PowerPoint or prose…?

I didn't expect the results from my ‘quick and dirty' prose v PowerPoint survey to land where they did. 

Let me share the findings and observations with you and draw my conclusion.

The findings In asking people what communication form their organisations use for discussing important decisions, prose wins hands-down. Here are the results:

  1. Mainly prose – 292 clicks
  2. A mix of prose and PowerPoint – 165
  3. Mainly PowerPoint – 155

My observations I was surprised at the degree of the skew toward prose given I am often asked to help people with their PowerPoint presentations. Two things stood out:

  1. The consistency of the trend: The ratio of responses in favour of prose held steady from the start, with the balance between ‘a mix' and ‘mainly PPT' holding steady also
  2. How few used both prose and PowerPoint: Far fewer readers said they used a mix than I expected (I had assumed this would be where 80+ landed)

My conclusion – I guess I am not as alone as I thought in my growing concern about the challenges and potential ineffectiveness of PowerPoint.

I do think it's a useful tool, but increasingly agree with Jeff Bezos that it can get in the way of powerful messaging.

Kind regards,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Is your paper really for ‘noting’?

Is your paper really for ‘noting’?

I had a terrific question from a client today that highlighted a common strategic challenge.

How do we use a storyline to create a ‘paper for noting’?

These are papers that aren't asking for a decision but truly updating our audience on a topic. For example, they might do one of these things:

  • confirm that something has been done
  • explain that something is ‘on track'


In this situation Adrian was concerned that he didn’t have a ‘so what’ (which is a tale for another day … what really IS a so what after all?).

Rather, he wanted his Board to be aware of a problem so they were ready to hear about his business case in a couple of months’ time.

So, what to do?

In this case Adrian decided to ask the Board to endorse his plan to prepare a business case to address the problem he was facing.

This strategy alerted the Board to the existence of the problem, demonstrated early that the team was taking action and provided clarity around the near-term steps the team would take to address it.

I hope that’s useful and look forward to sending more ideas through next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Learn how to communicate complex ideas that cut through using our practical book. We share our seven favourite storyline patterns while also discussing two practical scenarios for each: one operational, one strategic.

Never be asked “So, what does that mean?” again.
Click here to learn more.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.