How to correlate your effort with your end game

How to correlate your effort with your end game

Do you wonder how much effort to invest in different pieces of communication?

Do you prioritise according to …

  • who your audience is
  • the type of document it is (email, paper, PowerPoint?)
  • how much time you have to prepare it, or
  • the business impact it will generate?

Let's use two routine examples that emerged in my coaching work this week to think about this and refine how we think about each of them using a simple framework.

First, two routine examples to set the scene

Imagine you have two emails to prepare today:

Example 1: A 250 word email seeking leadership support. You need your five-person leadership team to agree to change the course of your project in light of complications caused by an unexpected technical glitch.

The change doesn't require any extra budget but does require your team to change their priorities which will lead to deprioritising another important project.

Example 2: A 150 word email to 3,000 staff. You have discovered a new security vulnerability in the latest Google Chrome release and need the whole organisation to manually update their browser immediately.

The steps that each of the 3,000 people need to take are simple but critical and you are aware that many of your employees are not ‘tech savvy' and may need explicit instructions to complete the update.

So, how do you decide how to proceed?

Next: a simple framework to help you prioritise your effort

By thinking about two important dimensions: impact and size of audience, we get to a different conclusion.

This allows us to correlate our effort and our end game by prioritising our effort according to a balance between the impact the communication will deliver and the risk of slowing the organisation down (or worse) if it goes wrong.

And … a counter-intuitive conclusion

Both of these examples need ‘proper' investment but using this approach we would pay more attention to the Google Chrome vulnerability email. Here's why:

Although the email to all staff seemed fairly simple, the risks and potential time loss were both higher than that for the leadership email.

If the staff email was poorly done, the cost to the organisation would have been substantial

  • The steps for updating the Chrome vulnerability were easy if you were ‘tech savvy', but could be time consuming if not. In the real situation it proved to be easy to convolute the steps confusing colleagues and leaving a real possibility that they would give up. Aggregate this over 3,000 people and the cost to the organisation of getting it wrong is pretty big.
  • The current risk of being hacked is also intense for this organisation, making the risk of not updating the browsers higher than normal.

If the leadership email was poorly done, the cost would have been less significant

  • The cost to the organisation of the ‘hourly rate' of these leaders taking time to ask questions to clarify the message is less than the potential time cost of the staff email
  • The risks to the organisation are minimal as no extra budget or skills were required and time lost could be caught up in other ways if the project needed to return to the original schedule
  • The project leader is likely to have other opportunities to put their case in the not too distant future should there be confusion stemming from the email

I hope that provides some food for thought this week and look forward to sharing more ideas with you next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

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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.

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.

2 Critical Ingredients for Making Complex Stories Look Simple

2 Critical Ingredients for Making Complex Stories Look Simple

Last week I mentioned that I have been working on some huge stories lately, and that these have been instructive in many ways.

One of the most comforting is that even huge stories look simple when they are done: it's just that the process for getting there isn't so simple.

By trusting the process and the structures and continuing to ask ‘Why?' when it didn't look right, we landed a super simple story that packed a powerful punch.

Here are two key takeaways from our experience:

Trust the storylining process and structures together with your instincts to land the story
Keep asking ‘Why?' to make what is obvious to you obvious to your audience

On the surface, these two ideas appear simple too. Trust me when I tell you that our heads really hurt after our session even though our story looked incredibly simple too.

 

Trust the process and structures together with your instincts to land the story. If I reflect back on why we were able to land a simple and clear message for the $1bn savings story, it was because the stakes were too high if we did not.

The team could not afford to have the Minister ‘unpick' the messaging given they wanted a major shift away from the Minister's preferred approach for prioritising investment initiatives.

So, the challenge was to find a high-level structure that resonated and to deliver it with precision and skill, listening both to our instincts as well as our structures.

We chose a Close The Gap deductive structure, and relied heavily on the finer detail within the deductive modules supported by The So What Strategy and the Ten Point Test to bring it home.

While it took a while to agree on the high level structural pattern, it took much longer to make it ‘sing'.

 

Keep asking ‘Why?' to make what is obvious to you obvious to your audience. The key that turned the lock for us was the answer to the age-old ‘dumb question': Why?

Why was the team's approach better than the approach that the Minister was wedded to?

This proved challenging and took quite some time to articulate as the team was so close to the problem and to their solution, which highlights a common challenge we all face.

By the time we write our stories, we are ‘sold', so we want to move to how we will deliver the new program / project / or whatever we are discussing.

However, our audience isn't there yet which means we need to shift our own heads back in time to surface our own reasoning.

This is why it was so hard to say that ‘the greatest chance of successfully improving X system while cutting expenditure is ensuring that the division heads ‘own' the approach.

On the surface that is so simple it's almost silly. However, trust me when I tell you it wasn't easy to get there.

I suspect you are familiar with the challenge, which is why I thought it might be helpful to raise it here.

So, in terms of next steps for you: I encourage you to think about opportunities within your own communication where you need to persist to articulate the ‘right why'.

Wishing you a great week.

Kind regards,
Davina

 

Keywords: deductive storylines, Close the Gap

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.

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.

How to Communicate the Right Amount of Detail

Clarity has never been easy.

But as we discuss in this workshop, we have a number of great techniques to make it achievable in your everyday work life.

We look at three simple steps to help you communicate the right amount of detail:

  1.  Know that being shorter isn't always better
  2. Be crystal clear about your purpose and audience
  3. Learn how to synthesise

We explore our ‘So What Strategy' framework which provides you with a roadmap each time you prepare a communication.

We also explain how Clarity First can help you consistently create clear and powerful communications that give your audience the information they need, so you have the best chance of getting the outcome you want.

Promoted because of communication skills

We are always delighted to hear success stories like this from our participants.

Elle was recently promoted because she improved her communication skills after just 3 months in the Clarity First Program.

Naturally she was delighted to move from director to senior account director. She had been in her role for a bit over a year and was ready.

Her boss told her that to move to the next level, she had just two things to conquer and that Clarity First was ‘all she needed’ to get over the line.

 

Hear what Elle has to say about how Clarity First has helped her succeed… 

 

Learn how Elle achieved this.

Hear from other program participants

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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.

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.

Why do stakeholders focus on the minutiea

Why do stakeholders focus on the minutiea

Have you noticed how easy it is to spot the tiny errors in communication, particularly when it was prepared by someone else?

When our stakeholders read our paper, watch our presentation or lose the thread of our message when we speak, they focus on the things they can understand.

This is, I think, why feedback often doesn't help us much.

We are asked to improve things that are easy to fix but sit on the surface of our communication: our ability to write, prepare charts or to find ways to become more confident in front of the room when presenting.

Feedback around the substance comes in the form of generalities that are hard to pin down such as ‘be more strategic' and ‘focus less on the detail' without specific advice on how to do that.

The challenge is to work out how to communicate so you get fewer:

  • Clarification questions
  • Requests to meet and discuss
  • Requests to rework your presentation

My number 1 suggestion for combatting this is to spend more time than you think you need to in clarifying two things before you prepare your communication:

Your purpose: What do you want to achieve with this specific piece of communication?

Your audience: Who are they really and what information do they really need from you to get the outcome you seek?

These two areas are foundational in nailing your messaging so you get less of the wrong kind of feedback, deliver more value … and enjoy your work more.

One of our clients summed it up beautifully this week:

“The magic about storylines is that they don't often get noticed or stand out unless you've made a mistake and it is harder to make mistakes when you use them”

Have a great week, everyone,

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.

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.

The power of ‘why’ in getting more done quickly

The power of ‘why’ in getting more done quickly

This is what happened to Chad.

Chad is a software developer at a trading firm.

Although fluent, English is his second language and this makes him nervous about his communication abilities.

He has also had feedback that his communication can be too aggressive, which has heightened his anxiety.

However, when I meet with him I find a warm, engaging and enthusiastic person who does not seem the least bit aggressive.

So, what is going on here?

To illustrate, I will first outline the situation that led to a lengthy and frustrating email chain, then offer our before and after emails before offering two questions you can ask to avoid putting yourself in Chad’s position.

The situation that led to a lengthy and frustrating email chain

When Chad and I worked through an email chain between him and some overseas colleagues, the issue slowly became apparent.

His communication was polite and detailed.

But it missed one critical ingredient.

Instead of explaining why something needed to be done, he jumped straight into how the overseas colleagues needed to do it.

This, in turn, led to a ten-email chain debating the details of the task, with a heavy overtone of ‘do it yourself’ from the overseas team.

Let's have a deeper look at the issue by reviewing the original email and an alternative.

Our before and after emails

Even though the information is technical, I think you’ll see what I mean when I show you the original (sanitised) ‘so what’ message versus the revised one:

Original – We need your help to come up with the implementation that supports System A in filtering the symbols and foreignID.

Revised – Given our own ABC filtering mechanism leads to a configuration that is hard to maintain, we need your help to implement ‘System A’ in filtering the symbols and foreignID.

Interestingly, the rest of the email changed dramatically too. 

It no longer consisted of a list of reasons why the suggestions from the overseas team were wrong, it included a list of reasons why he needed their help.

On reflection, he decided that if he had drafted this email in the first place the whole chain of about 10 emails would have been avoided.

And the problem would have been fixed much sooner.

So, how to avoid this happening to you?

Two questions to ask to avoid putting yourself in Chad’s position

This experience raises an important issue for me that I hope will help you also.

Before ‘smashing out' your next email request ask yourself these two questions so you are sure about your audience's situation:

  1. Are we certain that the people we are asking to help us know why we need their help, not just how we want them to help?
  2. How much time would we get back each week if we routinely slowed down and stopped to think about our audience's situation before we hit send?

I hope that helps.

Have a wonderful week.
Davina

Keywords: strategy, emails, ESL

 

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.

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.

Clarity and insight are not the same thing

Clarity and insight are not the same thing

This week in Clarity First we have been having lots of discussion about things that are both core to communication and on the fringe of it.

One big ‘aha' moment came during Thursday's Accelerator Workshop.

‘This isn't just about communication. It's about negotiation', said one new participant.

This was a magical penny drop.

The same penny drop occurred in three other corporate workshops I ran. 

To craft a clear message is a critical and useful thing to do.

To crafting an insightful message is not the same – and frankly harder to do.

It involves both doing and not doing a number of important things.

Crafting insightful messages requires you to do many things, including the following five:

  1. Be crystal clear about your value-adding purpose. This is where negotiation skills start to play a role.
  2. Understand your audience deeply. People skills, stakeholder management, business acumen as well as negotiation are key here.
  3. Summarise the right data accurately. Critical thinking plays a key role here
  4. Draw out useful insights. Ditto here, along with synthesis and again business acumen. Think carefully as to whether your message will hit the right notes at the time it is delivered.
  5. Tie all of those things together to craft one single, powerful, insightful message that packs a real punch.

All of this means avoiding, at a minimum, the following three things:

  1. Creating meaningless titles in Word and PowerPoint that look like this: Finance or Sales or Risks
  2. Blindly filling in templates without constructing an overarching narrative for the whole communication
  3. Holding back from sharing a point of view.

I hope that helps. Have a great 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.

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.

A BIG week indeed …

A BIG week indeed …

You know your stuff.

You have been working on it for a long time.

You have been promoted.

But now you need to deal with more senior stakeholders and nobody seems to be able to articulate what they need from you.

And, in looking at your predecessor's communication you can tell it's not how you want to communicate.

But … how do you communicate to your new leaders?

So, what if you could go from here to:

  • Nailing two major approvals in one week (involving millions in funding)
  • Getting fast and consistent ‘yesses' from leaders
  • Being awarded for overall excellence in your role

But, enough from me. 

Cerise should tell her own story.

First, the email then the short video.

 

Learn how Cerise achieved this.

Hear from other program participants

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This post was prepared by Davina Stanley, founder of The Clarity First Program and author of The So What Strategy.

Davina has been helping experts communicate complex ideas since joining McKinsey as a communication specialist 20+ years ago. 

She helps experts clarify their thinking so they can prepare powerful and strategic communication in any format. It might mean preparing for a difficult meeting, getting ready for a project steering committee, putting forward a business case or writing a board paper.

She bases her approach on The Minto Pyramid PrincipleⓇ combined with other powerful techniques to help experts of all kinds globally strengthen their communication skills.

 

Shop Co Case Study

During these times of uncertainty clarity in your thinking and communication is vital.

This case study of a communication sent to customers during the COVID-19 pandemic offered an excellent way to illustrate the need for top down and bottom up thinking, a topic we have be discussing regularly of late here at Clarity First.

This rich case study encourages you to:

  1. Take more time to think about your strategy before you start
  2. Work top-down to build your story, testing bottom-up
  3. Anchor everything around a storyline

Click the play button below to learn more and here to download the handout and here for more program information and here for information for your manager

Introduction to synthesis bonus expires 29 July

Kick start your learning with the two-part Bonus Workshop Program

> Get going immediately so you can see results straight away

> Learn the basics so you have a strong foundation to build on

> Complete challenges so you do more than ‘know the stuff' … you can start to ‘DO the stuff'

The Introduction to Synthesis Part 1 Workshop will be held on 30 July at 8am and 6pm Sydney time.

This will be followed by Part 2 on 1 September.

Recordings will be available for those who cannot be present live, or who want to revisit the material.

This bonus offer expires at 9pm AEST on 29 July.

This was the best course I have done. I was always confident in my reasoning but not as confident with presenting it, particularly to audiences that were not on my wavelength.

Davina has shown me how to organise my high level messages which gets me a better response from my audiences.

In fact, when I used the approach to present to the sales team last week half of them came up to me individually afterwards to compliment me on my presentation. That has never happened before!

Bojana

Customer Experience Advisor, Sydney, Australia

 

Clarity First was incredibly useful for me as it has provided a framework through which I am able to structure my initial thoughts quickly and easily.

I have always been OK at delivering communications, but the tools Davina has taught me will not only make the communications clearer and more concise but the time taken to get to the end point has reduced greatly.

I recommend the course to anyone who wants to make existing skills even better or for those that want to create the foundations for great communication.

Michaela Flanagan

GM Performance and Strategy, Insurance Industry

Keywords: ShopCo Case Study, workshop, free

The Art and Science of Communicating Strategically

The Art and Science of Communicating Strategically

The Art and the Science of Powerful Communication

Many of us are asked to ‘be more strategic' in their communication.

But what exactly does that mean and how do you do it?

I share a series of tips through one powerful case study, which does at least three things. It

  1. Focuses on a commonly applicable topic
  2. Offers a complex story with lots of considerations to manage (ie that require both art AND science)
  3. Includes at least 3 takeaways you can use straight away

Click the play button below to learn more and here to download the handout and here for more program information and here for information for your manager.

 

* WATCH UNTIL THE END FOR BONUS DETAILS – EXPIRE ON 16 OCTOBER 2020 *

 

Bonuses expire 9pm AEST 16 October

1-1 Coaching sessions for early birds

Richard Medcalf of XQuadrant will offer the first 3 team leaders a 1-1 coaching session.

Davina Stanley of Clarity First will offer the first individuals a communication coaching session.

Kick start your learning with the two-part Accelerator Program

> Get going immediately so you can see results straight away

> Learn the basics so you have a strong foundation to build on

> Complete challenges so you do more than ‘know the stuff' … you can start to ‘DO the stuff'

Recordings will be available for those who cannot be present live, or who want to revisit the material.

Extend your strategic thinking skills by attending Richard Medcalf's intensive 90-minute workshop.

Recordings available for those who cannot make the 21 January session

Hi Davina
It’s s funny to listen to myself 🙂
Perfectly happy for you to use however you would like.
FYI – I also got an award for my great work today.  Nothing big but still, the recognition was nice.  I feel like much of it was thanks to the work I’ve done with you!
Thanks for creating such a great program.
See you next week!
Cerise
PS You can go here to hear Cerise's story along with that from several other program participants
Cerise

Program Manager, Sydney, Australia

This was the best course I have done. I was always confident in my reasoning but not as confident with presenting it, particularly to audiences that were not on my wavelength.

Davina has shown me how to organise my high level messages which gets me a better response from my audiences.

In fact, when I used the approach to present to the sales team last week half of them came up to me individually afterwards to compliment me on my presentation. That has never happened before!

Bojana

Customer Experience Advisor, Sydney, Australia

 

Clarity First was incredibly useful for me as it has provided a framework through which I am able to structure my initial thoughts quickly and easily.

I have always been OK at delivering communications, but the tools Davina has taught me will not only make the communications clearer and more concise but the time taken to get to the end point has reduced greatly.

I recommend the course to anyone who wants to make existing skills even better or for those that want to create the foundations for great communication.

Michaela Flanagan

GM Performance and Strategy, Insurance Industry

Keywords: Art and Science of communicating complex ideas, workshop, free

Communicate your main message early

Communicate your main message early

 

Is it a bit bold to put your ‘main message' up front?

 

Some people tell me they think that putting their main message early in their communication feels a bit like ‘shouting'. Although I understand the concern, I would encourage you to look at this from a different perspective.

Possibly one that seems quite upside down.

All of our audiences – including ourselves – are very busy. Usually we think we are TOO busy. 

Outlining our message early in our communication is confident, but also incredibly helpful for our busy audiences.

Click the video below to learn more about the Clarity First approach, and here to get more ideas on how to master this approach in your own career.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Do facts change minds?

Do facts change minds?

Changing other peoples' minds is central to having influence in business, however in his new book Atomic Habits James Clear offers some new insight into this vexing challenge.

He starts by referring to two notable minds which point in the same direction:

J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “Faced with a choice between changing one's mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.”

So true.

Leo Tolstoy who was even bolder: “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.” I hunch women behave similarly!

So, if that is also true, how do we get any kind of progress in business?

We must frequently persuade people to change how they think about things and, even harder, get them to change their behaviour.

Here are six suggestions from James's new book to help in that regard:

Understand why we hold our tongues when we know something is not true. He claims we don't always believe things because they are correct, but rather because they make us look good to people we care about it. This speaks to the power of the reward we all get from belonging to a tribe.

Focus on friendship first, and facts second. Given this tribal nature, he suggests that people will hold onto false beliefs long and hard if that means they can sustain their membership of a group that matters to them. So, finding a way to engage people in a new idea, a new process or a new behaviour is best achieved when you have already built a relationship and when you can frame it in such a way that adds to rather than contradicts the beliefs of the community that people belong to.

Find areas of agreement and build on those. If someone you know, like and trust believes a radical idea you are more likely to give it merit. After all, if you like them already, there is a greater chance of liking their ideas. So, use this to your advantage. Find your . friends who also have strong relationships with the people who disagree with you, and engage them in your ideas first.

Where disagreement is likely, find a way to introduce the ideas without confrontation. Interestingly, James suggests providing people with something to read – he suggests a book, but in a business context a report or paper might do – rather than going first for a conversation. This provides people with an opportunity to absorb and reflect on the ideas in private so they can incorporate the information into their own view before having a potentially courageous conversation from scratch. In sum, warm them up gently.

Avoid giving people opportunities to complain about things they don't like. This gives them an opportunity to talk about – and reinforce – their dislike for an idea, giving it more airtime than it deserves. James calls this Clear's Law of Recurrence: the more often something gets mentioned (even in a negative way) the more it is embedded into the psyche of the speaker and the listener. After all, how much air time does Donald Trump get? Instead, spend your time championing good ideas so they get the airtime they deserve and the others fade away from lack of oxygen.

Be kind first and right later. Here he quotes the brilliant Japanese writer Haruki Murakami who once wrote, “Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.” Enough said.

Click here to read the full article. And, no, I don't get anything from James Clear for blogging about his article. I just like what he says and thought you might too.

Keywords: design your strategy, leadership communication, learning and development

 

Please note, this post contains Amazon affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. This helps me cover the costs of delivering my free content to you.

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.

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.

‘Pitch it in 10’, or Branson’s not interested

‘Pitch it in 10’, or Branson’s not interested

Now, that's uncompromising.

Ten words is not many, and yet this week a client told me they and a colleague had spent most of the weekend prior preparing a major presentation to their leadership that was summed up in just 10 powerful words.

Despite all the weekend work, which included six complete storyline rewrites and rather a lot of coffee, their core message ‘clicked' only 10 minutes before they were to present to the leadership. This was the message:

We must invest $X in ‘Slingslot' to win against ‘Goliath'.

We were all delighted with the simplicity and even more delighted with the impact.

There was no argument from the leadership team, despite the leaders expressing strong opposition to Slingshot in previous meetings.

However, in previous meetings the team had not articulated exactly why Slingshot was necessary. They said it had been staring them in the face all along, but they were so lost in the details they could not see it.

Unsurprisingly, having listened to 25,000 or more pitches, Richard Branson has a nose for what works and he says that if an entrepreneur can't pitch their idea in 10 words or less he's not investing.

At Clarity Thought Partners, we are a bit more generous than that: we think 25 is OK, but concur with much of what Branson has said about pitching business cases in his new book Finding My Virginity.

“The best ideas don't always need to have detailed financial projections and complicated business proposals behind them. Sometimes they come fully formed on the back of a beer mat… If it can't fit onto the back of an envelope, it's probably a bad idea. Keep it short, sharp and picture-perfect,” he said.

You may be surprised – stunned even – that that the idea for starting Virgin's Australian operations came about this way.

Brett Godfrey was the CFO of Virgin Express, a regional airline that served cities in Europe was living in England and had decided to move his family back to Australia. Before he left, Godfrey was on the phone with Branson and asked if he had a minute to pitch an idea. He meant 60 seconds, literally.

“Hold on, I've got the idea on the back of some beer mat,” Godfrey said. Branson heard papers ruffling in the background. Godfrey found the pitch. He had written it on the back of a coaster where he had placed a pint of beer.

Godrey pitched the idea of a low-cost airline in Australia. As the son of a Qantas employee, he knew the Australian aviation market. He had sat down with an airline expert over a beer and together they hatched the idea.

Branson was hooked and asked for a more detailed plan, which Godfrey delivered.

The numbers added up, Godfrey's vision was clear, and Branson gave him the green light. In that moment, Virgin Blue was born and launched with $10 million and just two jets. Today, renamed Virgin Australia Airlines, it's the second largest airline in Australia.

Although not an orthodox way to pitch, we have seen this done before.

Gerard recalls a ‘meeting' where he and a client were debriefing at the end of a workshop and talked through a pitch that the client had to make the next day by doodling a storyline onto a coaster. That pitch worked too.

If you would like to learn how to condense your pitch so you can identify the short, sharp statement that encapsulates your idea and then back it up with a compelling case take at look at our new book, The So What Strategy.

The book offers our seven favourite business storyline patterns, including one called The Pitch.

Click here to download a chapter describing the Action Jackson storyline pattern.

Keyword: pitching

 

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.

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.

Is Andy Groves right? Is writing more important than reading?

Is Andy Groves right? Is writing more important than reading?

Like many, I have been impressed by the discipline that Jeff Bezos has instilled at Amazon, where important decisions are made after thorough discussion of tightly crafted six-page narratives. Bezos has been quoted as saying that

Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.

He rightly points out that PowerPoint leaves room for gaps in our thinking. I would add that prose templates that ask executives to ‘colour in’ the sections rather than constructing a cohesive story are equally problematic.

I was, however, even more intrigued when I read how Andy Grove of Intel considers the exercise of writing ‘more of a medium of self-discipline than a way to communicate information.’

He went as far as saying that ‘writing the report is important; reading it often is not’.

That is a big statement, but he might be right. The clarity of thought – epiphanies, even – that come from crafting clear and concise communication can be golden.

The challenge, however, is to discern when to write to clarify our own thinking and when to communicate that thinking with others.

Here are three things to consider before you foist your next paper or pack on someone else:

  1. Does this piece of communication put forward a proposition that you can state in one clear sentence? As one company secretary from a large Australian energy retailer said to me this week, there is too much dissemination and not enough communication. The last thing that audiences need is more facts being disseminated without their relevance being articulated.
  2. Does this piece of communication lead toward a specific action or decision? If you are not clear about how your communication will lead you or your team closer to a specific business objective, hold off sharing it. Sharing at this stage will not only clog up other people’s inboxes, it will damage your brand.
  3. Is your communication crafted so clearly that your audience can get to the heart of your proposition within the first 1 minute? It doesn’t matter who you are communicating with, whether you are working in business, government, consulting, education or the not for profit sector. Every person in your audience is in a hurry. If they don’t ‘get’ what you are looking for quickly, they will at best ‘flag it for later’. Later can be a very long time away.

Keywords: critical thinking, leadership communication

 

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.

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.

Getting email feedback ‘just right’ is essential (and easier than you think)

Getting email feedback ‘just right’ is essential (and easier than you think)

It is easy to go to extremes when giving email feedback: either so harsh that your recipient is upset and is either so offended or angry they ignore your suggestions or so soft that they miss the point altogether.

This can be because we are either too cautious about upsetting someone and too aware of the limitations of the medium or because we are in a rush and don't realise the impact we are having.

A short article from Fast Company by Sara Marco of The Muse provides a simple formula for getting the balance right: not too hard but not too soft either: just right.

When providing feedback to your team members as they start to use storylines, Sara Marco's approach will work brilliantly.

It provides an opportunity to highlight what your team member has gotten right, and also what they can improve.

Without this level of consistent feedback, your teams are unlikely to stick with the approach and give you the results you need: less rework for you, more great ideas being approved by those higher up.

And, what I love even more about this article, it is written using a pretty solid grouping structure.

Click here to have a read and see what you think.

 Keywords: emails, leadership communication, leadership skills

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.

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.

Bizarre but Beaut: Can structure actually stimulate creativity?

When we think of creativity, it is easy to think of freedom, a lack of rules – even to the point of anarchy.

Creativity after all is all about finding new and different ways of doing things, whether through visual art or other forms.

And yet even artists like Picasso who found radical new ways to represent ideas visually tell us that we must first understand the rules to break them.

Wouldn’t it be a great paradox, though if we took this a step further to suggest that rules actually stimulated creativity?

When reading the weekend paper my husband spotted an article that proved this point.

An inner city couple living in a 130 metre warehouse apartment suddenly found themselves in a fix: they were about to have a child and yet did not want to move.

But … how could you raise a family in an apartment of such miniscule proportions?

No, let’s rephrase that: how could you enjoy raising a family in an apartment of such miniscule proportions?

Given their strong attachment to their apartment and their neighborhood the couple approached an architect to see what could be done. In doing so they came up with some ingenious solutions to everyday problems that they would not have identified had they decided to relocate to the burbs.

For example, by creating an under-floor storage space they created the best toy box I have ever heard of.

Imagine being able to lift a floor panel and sweep the toys all into the cavity before putting the lid back on. The pack-up would be fast and require no ugly plastic containers to line the walls of multi-purpose rooms.

I cannot imagine anybody coming up with this ingenious solution without the strict limitations of space that their 130-metre apartment provided.

So too do the limits imposed by structured thinking drive creativity in communication.

When introducing structured thinking to our clients it is not uncommon for people to rail against them.

Last week a client preparing a speech experienced just this.

She needed to persuade a new cohort of students to think – and behave – differently about the way they prepare for entering the workforce at the end of their MBA.

In working through the context, trigger, question structure at the start of her presentation we not only gave her steps to follow to create a functional speech, but also demonstrated how adhering to structure can radically change what you are going to say.

Her story went from something focused on what she wanted to achieve to something that would engage her audience.

Rather than asking “How can we get MBA students to use our services?”,  she changed the question to be “How can we inspire the MBA students to start building their personal brand closer to the start of their program than the end?”.

Naturally, the story that followed the second question was quite different than the first.

Click here to get some more ideas about how structure can help you radically change what you need to say – and help you get the elite results you want.

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.

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.

Ironically, writers need to educate readers about what ‘reader-focused’ means

Ironically, writers need to educate readers about what ‘reader-focused’ means

The Minto Pyramid Principle is a widely lauded approach for preparing clearer business reports.

Developed by a McKinsey & Company team led by Barbara Minto in the 1960s, ‘pyramid’ helps people use logic and structure to organise their ideas into a logical and coherent reader-focused argument.

At Clarity First we love this approach.

It enables us to think top down, draw out insights quickly and communicate complex ideas clearly.

However, despite much evidence from our own work and its popularity across consulting and business strategy teams in particular, very little formal research has been undertaken into its actual effectiveness.

Perhaps it was enough to say “It’s McKinsey: It’s good”.

However, Dr Louise Cornelis (another ex-McKinsey communication specialist) recently changed this when working with a series of Masters’ students at Groningen University in Holland.

She undertook a qualitative study to understand whether preparing a business report using a ‘top-down, reader-focused pyramid structure’ was actually helpful to the reader.

Dr Cornelis’ findings demonstrate some irony.

Writers and readers don’t always agree on what is ‘reader-focused’ unless the writer first educates the reader about what ‘reader-focused’ actually means.

Here is why that seems to be true.

#1 – Audiences are hard wired into their old habits

It seems that our readers are hard-wired into what they expect and can be confused by a new way of doing things unless it is explained to them.

In the case of business reports, many people are accustomed to receiving reports written with titles such as ‘Executive Summary’, ‘Background’, ‘Issues’ and a ‘Conclusion’ at the end and are quite lost when these are absent.

They can be confused by Pyramid reports that ignore these section titles, preferring to instead have customized titles that reflect the content of the report: a bit like newspaper headlines.

#2 – Consultants and others using the approach often forget to explain how their approach works

When, however, the approach is explained they not only like the Pyramid Principle approach much better, but can read the documents significantly more quickly.

Readers who were provided with a short description of the structure before reading the documents were able to grasp the main message from a document almost five times faster than those with no preparatory explanation.

Dr Cornelis found that people very much appreciated the Pyramid Principle report-writing approach but only when they understood what it was trying to do.

So the next time have a good idea: remember to ensure your significant others understand the benefit, even when the idea is specifically for the them.

 

 

Keywords: design your strategy, develop your storyline, research

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Louise Cornelis is a communication consultant based in Rotterdam. Louise specialises in helping her clients use structure and logic to communicate clearly, having learned her craft at McKinsey & Company and honed it by working with a wide range of clients since.

She particularly enjoys grappling with complex challenges that relate to helping others not only communicate clearly, but want to do so. The Clarity First team very much enjoys thinking about these challenges in collaboration with Louise.

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.

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.

Don’t make your audience do all the work

One of the great strengths of the structured communication approach we advocate is that it helps you and your audience at the same time.

As my title suggests, it means your audience doesn't have to do all the work: you do. You might think that is a bad thing, but in value-adding jobs it's not just essential, it's advantageous.

It means you stand out for delivering complex messages to any audience with clarity and confidence.

Here are six practical ideas to help you do that:

  1. Be Clear about the Purpose of your Communication. I offer a case study as well as one simple sentence to help you with your planning. It's one of those simple things that makes a big difference. Click here to access this module.
  2. Spend more time now understanding your audience to save time later. I notice that this module has been completed by fewer people than any other, which puzzles me. I wonder if the topic seems a bit obvious? The ideas aren't … take a look and see what you think. Access module 2 here.
  3. Don't make your audience do all the work. It's all too easy to blurt our ideas out and hit send. What happens when we do that? Is there another way? Access module 3 here.
  4. Take advantage of your critical thinking abilities when preparing your communication. This is the second most popular module, and offers ideas on the science of communication not just the art. Access module 4 here.
  5. Avoid the Chain of Pain. This one offers ideas for improving the collaborative processes we use inside organisations to prepare and socialise our communication. My least favourite is the namesake of this module and I offer ideas for avoiding it. Access module 5 here.
  6. Use the storyline to frame the structure of your communication. Another popular module with a practical take on how to get your ideas across. Access module 6 here.

You can refer back to them at any time. I hope you find them useful.

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.

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.