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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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.

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