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

 

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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 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.

‘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 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 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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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 you 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

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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 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.