In a one-on-one with one of my Foundation Members this week she highlighted the difference between using a topic-driven structure and a message-driven structure when preparing her program briefing.

I share this because I hear leaders setting their teams up to prepare communication this way only to complain that the resulting communication didn't hit the mark.

Let me demonstrate by using the topic-driven strategy here for this email so you can see why it doesn’t deliver a high quality communication.

Here is her original structural outline for her program briefing (which she gave permission for me to share … and which she quickly decided not to proceed with).

  • What it is and what it will achieve
  • Why we are doing it
  • How we are doing it
    • Past
    • Present
    • Future

Here is what is wrong with this approach. It

  • Buries the meaning underneath a lot of detail
  • Assumes you will read it all (which my experience and research suggests is unlikely)
  • Leads to repetition which risks you switching off, being confused and missing important information (and possibly the main point)

See what I mean?

  • You can’t skim it to work out what I’m saying
  • There isn’t one cohesive story, even though the points are related to each other
  • You are left to tie it together for yourself … assuming you are interested enough to do so
  • It's hard to repeat to someone else later, which means the author is making themselves work harder than they need to … they aren't turning their audience into their mouthpieces

Here's a challenge for you: the next time you go to sketch an outline for a substantial piece of communication try focusing it around messages rather than topics.

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

Kind regards,

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This then leads to a bigger problem because you realise – too late – that you don't have the data you need to communicate with your stakeholders.

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This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

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  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
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  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

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(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.