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.

Getting to the So What just got easier

Getting to the So What just got easier

This new book introduces seven most commonly used storyline patterns for business communication

How often have you invested significant energy to prepare a piece of communication only to be confronted with this most uncomfortable question from your audience: “So what?”

It’s one of the most uncomfortable questions in business.

Your audience asks because they want to know why the ideas in your presentation should matter to them and to the business, and they want to know in one simple statement. You might have spent hours, days or even weeks preparing, but they want a succinct answer that summarises everything for them in an instant. And you want the earth to open up and swallow you because you don’t know how to answer this question succinctly.

If you don’t answer this question well, all of your work can be for nothing. Early in our careers, we were both on the receiving end of this question and not ready to answer it. Those memories are some of our most crushing, yet also our most instructive.

What’s the solution? To avoid the embarrassment and frustration of not being able to answer that one simple question, you must state the ‘So what’ clearly and unambiguously at the beginning of your communication and then make the case to support it.

But, how do you do that?

Our new book, The So What Strategy, outlines a three-step process to do just that while also offering our favourite seven storylining patterns so you don’t need to start from scratch.

  1. Start thinking before you prepare your communication: During this phase, we encourage you to dig deep so you can articulate your purpose clearly and also be confident that you understand your audience well.
    1. Your purpose should state: As a result of this communication, I want my audience to …. know, think or do something specific …
    2. Your audience should be broken down so that you are clear who the decision-makers, influencers and others are and what specifically interests them about your topic.
  2. Structure your thinking: Here is when we recommend mapping your ideas into a logically organised hierarchy – what we call a storyline – so that you can articulate your main point in just one sentence and back it up logically. There are three things you should know about storylines:
    1. Storylines require you to map out your higher-level ideas so they synthesise or summarise the ideas within each section of your story. Doing this forces you to clarify your own thinking so you can articulate a more powerful case. It also helps you ‘throw out’ ideas that are interesting but not directly relevant to your main point.
    2. Storylines enable your audience to scan your documents quickly to identify key themes. This enables your audience should ‘get the gist’ within 30 seconds of engaging with your communication. It also enables them to find your key points quickly, rather than hunting for them, or assuming they can be found buried somewhere near the end of your communication.
      If you scan this article, for example, you can see that I have organised it around one idea (introducing our three-step process that enables you to answer the ‘So what?’ question) that is supported by a grouping structure, consisting of three actions: start thinking, structure your storyline and share your communication. This is a relatively simple example of what we are talking about.
    3. Storylines don’t need to be built from the ground up every time. Having worked with storylines for more than 20 years each, we have identified the most commonly used patterns. Click here to download a preview chapter.
  3. Share your communication: Once the structure of your thinking is clear, this can be translated directly into any form of communication: phone conversation, email, paper or PowerPoint pack. The key is to make sure that the structure of the thinking drives the communication, not the problem-solving journey you went on or the medium itself.

Davina Stanley and Gerard Castles are founders of Clarity College and Clarity Thought Partners. They are also joint authors of The So What Strategy, released this week. Both trained at McKinsey & Company and serve some of Australia’s most respected organisations.

Keywords: books, leadership communication, online business writing training, the so what

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.