New Podcast – CUTTING THROUGH

New Podcast – CUTTING THROUGH

I am excited to announce that I have begun a podcast.

Cutting Through interviews experts who have done just that.

They have cut through with stakeholders who do not share their expertise to achieve material outcomes.

This could mean …

  • engaging a multi-disciplinary group such as a leadership team or a Board in a risk management, technology, human resources or another kind of issue
  • motivating your team or perhaps your peers about a major change to the way they need to work, or
  • communicating to deliver maximum value in another professional setting.

Each of these situations offers its unique set of challenges and an opportunity to learn lessons to apply to our own communication.

Episode 1 with Anthony Wilson of ABM Risk Management offers suggestions for engaging senior leaders in thinking about risk management as change management.

It's a thoroughly enjoyable conversation. Anthony shares decades of wisdom as a senior leader and advisor to some of Australia's largest organisations.

You can find Cutting Through on your favourite podcast player or here on my website.

I look forward to bringing this and more to you over the coming months.

I hope you enjoy the episodes as much as I am.

 

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.

A tip or a trick would not have fixed this

A tip or a trick would not have fixed this

Twice monthly at Clarity First hold live working sessions.

Participants join these to collaborate on real, live communication challenges.

This week's session was a ‘monster' which required advanced structuring and synthesis techniques to solve.

The challenges we faced reminded me why a ‘tip or a trick' won't help when faced with complex communication challenges. ‘Cracking' this one required at least five key ingredients:

  1. Familiarity with the business context and the project in question. We clarified this by brainstorming and asking questions
  2. A solid understanding of the stakeholder environment. We unpacked this using our 5 key ‘understand your audience' questions
  3. An agreed way to capture and structure our ideas in the shortest possible time, which focused around our storyline structures
  4. A powerful ability to synthesise a message out of complexity, which relied on our top down and bottom up thinking strategies
  5. Advanced understanding of how to ‘flip' storyline patterns and test them against first principles. We used these to draft an accurate and persuasive change request.


Do you also find it challenging to ‘wrestle' complex ideas into clear, high-quality communication?

If so, it's time to join Clarity First.

Doors open on 11 September and will close at 9pm AEST on 21 September.

Learn more about the program here or go straight here to register for your desired pathway.

  • Intensive – limited to 20 extra places (10 already taken)
  • Classic – learn at your own pace, unlimited places  
  • Foundation – get extra 1-1 help from me, 2 places only 


I hope to see you in the program.

Davina

Clarity First Registrations Now Open!


In Clarity First we introduce structured communication techniques to help you engage decision makers.

We go beyond platitudes like “keep it short” and “give me less detail” to teach you how to turn your information into high-quality insights.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about the program:

We offer three learning pathways to choose from

Intensive – for those who want structure and focus so they can move through the material and build their skills in 3 months. Includes 6 interactive workshops + online pre-work + copy of The So What Strategy + access to small group coaching. 30 places max. 12 already taken.

Classic – for those who want to learn in their own time and enjoy small-group coaching. Join on monthly or yearly subscriptions.

Foundation – for those who want more. Enjoy everything in the Intensive as well as the Classic pathways + 4 x speed coaching sessions + 6 x email feedback on your own work. 2 places only available.

>> Download the latest brochure here.

Get your ‘Pitch your boss' kit here


If you want your manager to invest in your development, you need to do your homework before you have the conversation.

Your manager will want to know exactly why this is the right program for you and how it will help the team and the organisation.

We have provided a brochure, a draft script and some steps to follow to help you prepare for your conversation.

>> Download the latest ‘kit' here.


See what others say here

A number of program members have shared their experience of Clarity First – warts and all.

Click here to see what they say.

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.

An idea to help you structure your communication

An idea to help you structure your communication

This week I reviewed a ‘boat load' of client communication to provide feedback.

A common theme emerged, which you may find familiar?

Just because communication includes well-formed sentences organised tidily into categories doesn't mean it cuts the mustard.

And, the categories can be the problem.


A category is not a message

A list of categories is not a ‘story structure'


To see an example and get some more ideas to help you with your communication, watch this recent workshop I ran.

>> Click here to watch.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Clarity First Intensive starts late September


In Clarity First we introduce structured communication techniques to help you engage decision makers.

We go beyond platitudes like “keep it short” and “give me less detail” to teach you how to turn your information into high-quality insights.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about the program:

We offer three learning pathways to choose from

Intensive – for those who want structure and focus so they can move through the material and build their skills in 3 months. Includes 6 interactive workshops + online pre-work + copy of The So What Strategy + access to small group coaching. 30 places max. 12 already taken.

Classic – for those who want to learn in their own time and enjoy small-group coaching. Join on monthly or yearly subscriptions.

Foundation – for those who want more. Enjoy everything in the Intensive as well as the Classic pathways + 4 x speed coaching sessions + 6 x email feedback on your own work. 2 places only available.

>> Download the latest brochure here.

Get your ‘Pitch your boss' kit here


If you want your manager to invest in your development, you need to do your homework before you have the conversation.

Your manager will want to know exactly why this is the right program for you and how it will help the team and the organisation.

We have provided a brochure, a draft script and some steps to follow to help you prepare for your conversation.

>> Download the latest ‘kit' here.


See what others say here

A number of program members have shared their experience of Clarity First – warts and all.

Click here to see what they say.

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 length doesn’t matter

Why length doesn’t matter

Do you often wish other people's communication was shorter?

Or, perhaps you are asked to shorten yours?

This is a common request that I think is misguided.

Let me explain why.

Stakeholders don't ask you to make your communication shorter because it's hard to read. They ask because it is too hard to read.

So, when you use ‘TLDR' … which for those of you who aren't familiar with this term means ‘To Long, Didn't Read', try this one instead:

THDR – Too Hard, Didn't Read

To see an example and get some more ideas to help you with your communication, watch this recent workshop I ran.

>> Click here to watch

I hope that helps.

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.

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.

I hope that helps. More next week.

 

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.

Invitation: Thinking Skills Workshop

Invitation: Thinking Skills Workshop

It’s tempting to think that preparing papers and PowerPoints is a low-level skill mastered early in your career.

And in part that is true.

If you are a mid-level executive, you most likely have had some success in explaining how your project is progressing and seeking approval for more resources.

You will likely have improved on the examples your predecessor used to get there. You will also have added a few tips and tricks from the business writing and presentation skills training programs you have completed.

You may have engaged Board members in big decisions too.

But perhaps something is still niggling you?

You can see that you haven’t quite nailed ‘the magic’. Perhaps you are

  • spending too much time out of hours preparing your communication
  • gaining approvals only after answering endless (obvious?) questions from stakeholders
  • being promoted more slowly than you would like?

At Clarity First we are confident that the missing ingredient is the ability to synthesise complex ideas into a single high-quality message.

Here's what that means:

  1. Knowing your audience intimately so you can deliver a message that doesn't just explain what your data says, but what it means to that specific audience
  2. Having a structured and repeatable process to work out what that message is (ie synthesise it)
  3. Crafting a well-structured and engaging narrative that will get you the results you need as quickly as possible

Here's what this does not mean: Learning how to …

  1. Write better prose
  2. Create more beautiful PowerPoints
  3. Feel more confident when you stand in front of a room

These things are a consequence of ‘nailing' your material and your message.

They are not the main game.

I invite you to join my August Thinking Skills Workshop to learn more.

>> Learn more here.

Warm regards,
Davina

PS – While away on sabbatical I caught up with two long-term clients in person. One of them thanked me. He said :

Lots of people say they do what you do. But in my experience, none of them actually deliver on that.

Your process works. I can do it every time and I get the results I need.

I wish I knew about it earlier in my career.
It would have made such a difference.

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”.



I hope that helps.

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.

Do you get lost in the detail too?

Do you get lost in the detail too?

Are you so close to your work that you lose sight of what it's all really for?

It's interesting to me how I for one forget the obvious.

I move forward forgetting that what is obvious to me is often not obvious to others.

I was again reminded of this today in an advanced workshop with one of my government clients.

We were using a ‘pattern flipping' technique, which involves some fairly sophisticated mental gymnastics.

We play with storyline patterns to create new ones that better frame the story we need to tell.

This is more helpful to this client than most because their stories are huge and incredibly complex.

So, here's the thing.

To make ‘flipping work', I have to see storylines as a thinking machine that helps me work out what my message is. They are not a template to fill in.

To me this is pretty ‘ho hum'.

Of course they are! I use them all day every day.

But to see the light turn on in my clients' eyes around this was magic.

Here's what happened. They did five things …

Stopped being so literal and started to think. They began focusing on how to tweak a pattern so it suited their purpose, rather than taking a quick look at the favourite seven and saying ‘that'll do'.

Began to lean into how a storyline structure can highlight thinking problems. They could find and fix thinking problems by testing the ‘rules' that hold the ideas together.

Went beyond ‘clarity' to deliver ‘insight'. They started drawing out powerful and insightful messages rather than delivering something accurate and on topic but not impactful.

Saw how much faster they went if they started slow. Although storylining can be time consuming and mentally taxing, they saw how much time they saved by slowing down enough to think at the start.

Realised how much more value they could deliver. Less time reworking papers, speaking to people who don't respond to emails or don't ‘get' the message they are conveying. Better clarity of message. Greater quality of insight. Greater velocity of business.

I hope that helps.

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.

4 ways to know if your message is powerful

4 ways to know if your message is powerful

We talk a lot about the clarity of communication. To me that means how easy it is for a person in our audience to grasp what we are saying.

This is, I suggest, only ground level for powerful business communication.​

The next level is to deliver a high-quality message. By my way of thinking this is a message that is not just clear, but which delivers significant value.

In most situations this requires a good degree of synthesis, and I thought sharing four key questions we ask might help you assess the quality of your own communication.

To test the quality of our messaging, we ask ourselves what level of message we have used.

  1. Level 1 – Is this a piece of data? A piece of data is a fact. For example, '10 widgets'. This is not a message, but rather a stand alone piece of information.
  2. Level 2 – Is this a topic? A topic is a category, eg ‘Options'. This explains what you are discussing, but not what you are saying. On its own, it is not a quality message.
  3. Level 3 – Is this a summary? A summary is useful when explaining what you found in some analysis. For example: “We sold 10 widgets more last week than we have sold over the past year”. It is an observation and tells you what your data set ‘says'.
  4. Level 4 – Is this a powerful message? A powerful message delivers the most value of any. It synthesises, which means it draws an inference from the information and says what it means. It involves taking a risk and is where the value lies.

I encourage you to review the three most recent pieces of communication you have prepared and assess what level your communication was at.

If you find very few level 4 messages ask yourself why and see if you can level them up in your next piece.

I hope that helps and look forward to bringing you more next week.

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.

What to do with ‘pros and cons’?

What to do with ‘pros and cons’?

 I had a fabulous question this week: where do we fit ‘pros' and ‘cons' in our storyline?

That is a ‘ripper' of a question.

My answer is this: lists of pros and cons don't belong in your communication, they help you think through that message. 

Let me explain.

If we provide lists of pros and cons for an idea, we are providing information rather than insight. This matters, because in taking this approach we

  • Ask our audience to do the thinking work for us
  • Risk that they will misinterpret our analysis and draw unhelpful conclusions
  • Let ourselves down by not adding as much value as we could

If, instead, we do the thinking for our audience, we will deliver insights that emerge from our own analysis of the pros and cons list.

Although more intellectually challenging, this is better for us and our audience. We know more about the area than they do and we don't miss the opportunity to share our value add.

If your audience is explicitly asking for pros and cons lists, pop them in the appendix. Focus your main communication around your interpretation of that list.

Hopefully next time they won't ask for the list, but rather for your insights.

I hope that helps.

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.

How thinking skills underpin your ability to present with confidence

How thinking skills underpin your ability to present with confidence

This week I received two requests to help with presentation skills, one for a finance professional and one for a group of about 80 analysts.

In both cases presentation skills were not the main issue.

In my opinion, they were just ‘tip of the iceberg'.

The real problem lies in synthesising findings into a clear, insightful, outcome-oriented message.

Let me explain with a diagram and then the back story.

 

 

From what I could see, the issue that I was being asked to solve: ‘standing with confidence' and ‘projecting their voice', were the least of their problems.

In both cases, presenters lost confidence when they received the wrong kinds of questions that led to the wrong kinds of discussions … and slow or no decisions.

When messages are not well synthesised decision makers ask questions that help them understand the message. This often involves diving into minute detail as decision makers attempt to do the thinking work themselves.

I see this most when recommendations are buried among a long series of facts. It forces decision makers to connect the dots between the facts, which leads them to lose the thread. This in turn leads them to ask questions to clarify the message rather than discussing the issue.

Conversations become convoluted, at times feeling more like an interrogation than a discussion. They also rarely lead to a high-quality or fast decision.

This is frustrating for all concerned and why I prioritise thinking skills.

I teach you to connect the dots into a well-synthesised message, so your audience doesn't have to.

Later this month I will hold a Thinking Skills MasterClass to uncover the skills essential to synthesising powerful messages.

This will then help you receive the right kinds of questions … and enjoy greater confidence when presenting your ideas in any forum.

>> Learn more here

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.

What to do when stakeholders disagree with you?

What to do when stakeholders disagree with you?

I was recently asked a wonderful question:

 

How do we communicate with a large group that includes stakeholders who disagree with us?

 

The client and I had a terrific discussion and I mapped the outcome as a decision tree to share with you all.

The tree offers a series of decision points that we must navigate if we are to deliver a story that gets the result we need.

In this particular case, the issue centred around around a common problem, which was how to handle ‘the story' when key stakeholders don't agree with it. Do we ….

  • Tell the same story regardless?

  • Edit the story to accommodate that person (or those people) only?

  • Ask someone else to present on our behalf?

  • Create a separate story that deals with the objector's specific concerns?

  • Scrap the story and start again?


There are lots of alternatives, each of which might suit a different situation but none of which suit all.


Hence, the decision tree. I hope you find it useful.

Cheers, 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.

When using questions can be a bad idea

When using questions can be a bad idea

An email came across my desk this week as I was thinking about the most useful idea for you that would build on last week's focus of ‘saying what you mean'.

It was an email from a tool that I use which was structured around a list of questions (see below).

To me, using questions like this misses a big opportunity for a coherent story and makes the audience work far too hard to grasp the main idea. Here are the problems I see with structuring communication around questions with one caveat:

The problem: structuring communication around questions almost guarantees your audience will miss your point

#1 – By highlighting the questions in bold, you are prioritising it over the answer. This then leaves you exposed to the risk that the audience may decide your communication is not important enough to invest the time needed for them to find your message.

#2 – By using questions as the main structuring device, you are at risk of providing your audience with the raw data rather than a coherent message that describes what the data means to your audience.

I have often seen people identify the questions they need to answer to solve a problem, collect the evidence and then send the list of questions with their evidence underneath as their ‘communication'.

This strategy ensures that both you and your audience miss the point. Your audience is less likely to get your message in part because you haven't articulated it to yourself.

The caveat: FAQs can be useful when combined with a powerful story

As a final caveat, I do understand that there are times that it is useful to have a series of FAQs (frequently asked questions), perhaps at the end of a presentation or information package. You will have seen our own FAQs on our site, for example.

This is not the same as focusing your whole communication around the questions, which I would caution against.

Cheers, Davina

Keywords: #questions #synthesis #structure

 

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.

How ‘constraints’ help create meaning

How ‘constraints’ help create meaning

It is fascinating to me that the whole idea of ‘constraints' feels like more of a limitation than a liberation.

Nobody – me included – likes being kept in physical or intellectual shackles and yet they are incredibly powerful. Liberating, even.

If we trust a simple set of constraints – rules – we can invest our thinking energy where it has most impact.

In the case of preparing communication, this means creating greater meaning as economically as possible.

This has been more evident than usual in my coaching sessions in past weeks and I wanted to share an example with you.

When coaching a finance executive yesterday, we went from making bland and frankly boring statements to communicating impactful ideas by using constraints.

In this particular case, our main message needed to be a recommendation rather than an observation. Let me show you what I mean:

Observation – We are allocating unspent funds to teams that have demonstrated that they can be compliant with the ABC policy funding agreement

Recommendation – We recommend allocating the unspent funds to teams that have invested in a step-change in talent development

The second version is so much more meaningful – and interesting. It is also the result of sticking to some simple rules, or ‘constraints' that push for clarity and insight.

Similarly, we have been talking about constraints in the problem solving context during the recent Clarity in Problem Solving program.

I was delighted to see in a recent HBR article that I am not alone in encouraging people to stick to some simple constraints.

>> Click here to access the article and another recent one by me on the topic of constraints also.

I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

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.

How ‘constraints’ can turbo charge your impact

How ‘constraints’ can turbo charge your impact

We have had a great start to the Clarity in Problem Solving Program and one topic that has jumped out to me during our initial two live workshops has been ‘constraints'.

It is I think human (or maybe just me?!) to shy away from constraints and prefer to trust our own judgement and processes.

However, my experience in helping people deliver greater impact when solving problems and communicating is that they are hugely powerful.

Let me first illustrate with a personal example and then expand into the professional before offering you a practical challenge.

Personal: a clever idea for using space driven by constraints

An article in a local magazine caught my eye some time ago. It described a clever renovation undertaken by some locals who loved their neighbourhood and wanted to ‘stay put' despite having a small terrace home and a growing family.

This drove at least three constraints: staying within the current small home, adding two young children combined with heritage rules that did not allow them to expand their footprint, either out or up.

The idea that I thought would make Mari Kondo the most proud was their idea to use the space under the floor boards for toy storage.

They built a discrete hatch that enabled them to sweep up and hide the day's mess, enabling them to use their living area multiple ways.

I thought that was a clever and practical example of constraints driving creativity and unexpected results.

I have not seen any other renovation take advantage of this space and suspect their space constraints were pushing them to think harder than most when redesigning their home.

Professional: opportunities for us to get creative also

I have many examples of where constraints have proved to be more help than hindrance in a professional setting, but let me offer just a couple to give you some ideas.

Amazon's culture of frugality. Amazon has 14 leadership principles which it ‘sticks to' across the organisation. Frugality is Number 10, and is described as follows:

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

This is one of the approaches that helps Amazon maintain its ‘startup' culture, and avoids the risk of corporate bloat as the business grows.

‘Rules' for structuring ideas. We have developed a set of 10 ‘rules' for evaluating the rigour with which we map our ideas on a page when solving problems and also separately when communicating.

Sticking to these rules helps us test whether we are focusing on the right question, whether we have mapped the problem or the ‘story' out completely and powerfully.

It's not about having a ‘pretty page' but rather ensuring our thinking stacks up.

We have learned from experience that not just understanding the principles that underpin these rules, such as MECE for example, but trusting our internal radar that spots an anomaly. This matters even when we see something small, and when we can't articulate what is wrong but sense something is out of line.

As one of my team said to a new client recently, “We trust that the combination of your contextual expertise plus our process will deliver the right outcomes”.

Challenge: A simple way to introduce a powerful constraint into your world

So, here's a challenge for you: where can you introduce a constraint into your world to magnify your impact?

It could be as simple as either yourself or whoever manages your diary honouring the regular block of ‘thinking time' you set in your diary each week.

A coaching client of mine was this morning marvelling at the difference a new assistant was making. The assistant was pushing back on colleagues to avoid overwriting my client's ‘thinking time' blocks with other peoples' priorities.

This has revolutionised my client's week, giving her the space she needs to deliver real impact.

I hope that helps and look forward to sharing more ideas next week.

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.

A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate

A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate

This week's discussions at Clarity First revolved around a thinking tool that some of you will have heard of.

If you have ever worked with consultants, then it is most likely you are familiar with the term MECE.

Depending which firm you have been working with, you will have heard it described as either Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive (McKinsey and others) or Mutually Exclusive and Covers Everything (BCG and no doubt others also).

I have a hankering for a different vernacular, NONG, which stands for two things in Australian parlance: No Overlaps, No Gaps and an insult which was hurled freely at children when I grew up.

In Australian slang, to be a nong is to be a bit of a fool.

To my mind if you can master this most useful and frankly tricky tool you are by no means a fool. Quite the opposite in fact.

In our discussion we were using five different techniques to frame communication that passed the MECE or NONG test.

This meant that the ideas we crafted into a clear hierarchy had to not only be relevant to the main message but include a complete set of supporting points that furthered the discussion.

For example, if our ‘so what' was ‘We should buy business X to increase our market share', we used the five techniques to carefully identify whether there were any gaps or any overlaps in our thinking.

In applying this to one example we discovered after our initial drafting that we had six supporting points, and that one of them could easily sit beneath another in the hierarchy.

As we discovered, although the concept is pretty easy, unearthing the thinking problems within it so we can deliver communication that is not just clear, but engaging and insightful is another matter.

If you would like to learn more about how mental models such as MECE can help with your communication, I invite you to explore my Mental Models course.

 >> 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.

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 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.

Bonus Hacks …

Bonus Hacks …

I am loving this journey of becoming more intentional about how I spend my time so I can multiply my impact.

The conversations of the past weeks with my client Steve and newfound collaborator Richard Medcalf have been enlightening.

So much so that I wanted to share just a few more practical tips with you that have emerged this week in the hope that they may help you also.

#1 – Auditing my time was far more useful AND fun than just filling in a spreadsheet (thank goodness). Each time I made an entry I became much more conscious of my priorities and ways to spend less time doing what I was doing. Download here if you haven't tried it yet. I can thoroughly recommend the exercise (instructions inside).

#2 – Richard's idea of using prisons and fortresses in freeing up time is golden. I am experimenting with some ways to do this that I thought might help you also, as well as some organisation-wide tactics being employed by some of my clients.

First, my own two experiments:

My prison – Locking away 90 minutes late in the day each Friday to do the admin stuff. No more checking who has paid us first thing every day, working out which invoices to chase or edit, or tidying up loose ends as they decide to loosen themselves. I am finding the reduction in context shifting useful but finding it hard to be disciplined!

My fortress – Saving Thursdays for my ‘flow day'. This means no meetings, coaching sessions or any other interruptions if I can possibly help it. I'll move the day when needed (especially for the rest of this half year as I have existing client bookings I can't move). Next year, however, I'll lock it away universally. So far, the very idea of having a whole day with no meetings feels luxurious, making Thursdays (ie today, when I am writing this post!) feel a bit like a sanctuary.

And to three other interesting ones I have heard of recently:

  • Facebook holds ‘Meeting Free Wednesdays' to enable their people to dive deeply into their work. In working with them over the past couple of years I can confirm they stick to it and find it productive.
  • Endeavour Drinks does this differently. They block out between 1-2 hours early in each day where meetings are banned. Given the fast-paced nature of retail businesses, I can see these smaller chunks which taken together equal about a day of time, working well. Their need to be responsive to customers means locking away a whole day would not work for them.
  • Steve, the client who gave me the ‘strategy hacker' idea, locks away two, two-hour blocks each week to solve problems and work at his whiteboard. He has found that between 10am and mid day on Tuesdays and Thursdays work best for him. This enables him to clear his desk and mind of urgent things first and then ‘grab a cup of tea and a biscuit' before heading to his office to hunker down for a couple of hours.

#3 – Using an electronic time tracking tool is also becoming surprisingly useful. I had not realised how much time I spend emailing for one thing. I am still getting the hang of it, but am finding RescueTime offers me a low-effort yet insightful view on both how I spend my time. It also allows me to tell it how productive I am using each tool I use which gives me a crude measure of productivity too.

#4 – For this to work, I need to get better at delegating. I don't just mean willing to do it, either. I mean knowing how to do it. Some of my efforts here have borne fruit, others need me to be more specific, particularly when working with new team members.

Again Michael Hyatt has come to the rescue with his tips on the subject. He offers four levels of delegation, which you can learn more about here

I hope you have found this useful – do let me know how your own experiments have gone.

Please note, this post contains affiliate links, and as RescueTime 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 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.

Ivy Lee method for prioritisation

I love the power of simple, universal techniques – even though I at times scoff at them because they seem to be too easy and sometimes too ‘general'.

James Clear has again found a simple and fabulous idea to help us all perform better. I have been using this technique for a while now and have found it so effective I thought I'd share it with you.

Again: don't be put off by the crazy simplicity … here's the story to explain …

By 1918, Charles M. Schwab was one of the richest men in the world.

Schwab was the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilder and the second-largest steel producer in America at the time. The famous inventor Thomas Edison once referred to Schwab as the “master hustler.” He was constantly seeking an edge over the competition.
One day in 1918, in his quest to increase the efficiency of his team and discover better ways to get things done, Schwab arranged a meeting with a highly-respected productivity consultant named Ivy Lee.

Lee was a successful businessman in his own right and is widely remembered as a pioneer in the field of public relations. As the story goes, Schwab brought Lee into his office and said, “Show me a way to get more things done.”

“Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives,” Lee replied.

“How much will it cost me,” Schwab asked.

“Nothing,” Lee said. “Unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”  

During his 15 minutes with each executive, Lee explained his simple method for achieving peak productivity.

>> Click here to read the simplest productivity strategy I have come across <<

Cheers,
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.