How to correlate your effort with your end game

How to correlate your effort with your end game

Do you wonder how much effort to invest in different pieces of communication?

Do you prioritise according to …

  • who your audience is
  • the type of document it is (email, paper, PowerPoint?)
  • how much time you have to prepare it, or
  • the business impact it will generate?

Let's use two routine examples that emerged in my coaching work this week to think about this and refine how we think about each of them using a simple framework.

First, two routine examples to set the scene

Imagine you have two emails to prepare today:

Example 1: A 250 word email seeking leadership support. You need your five-person leadership team to agree to change the course of your project in light of complications caused by an unexpected technical glitch.

The change doesn't require any extra budget but does require your team to change their priorities which will lead to deprioritising another important project.

Example 2: A 150 word email to 3,000 staff. You have discovered a new security vulnerability in the latest Google Chrome release and need the whole organisation to manually update their browser immediately.

The steps that each of the 3,000 people need to take are simple but critical and you are aware that many of your employees are not ‘tech savvy' and may need explicit instructions to complete the update.

So, how do you decide how to proceed?

Next: a simple framework to help you prioritise your effort

By thinking about two important dimensions: impact and size of audience, we get to a different conclusion.

This allows us to correlate our effort and our end game by prioritising our effort according to a balance between the impact the communication will deliver and the risk of slowing the organisation down (or worse) if it goes wrong.

And … a counter-intuitive conclusion

Both of these examples need ‘proper' investment but using this approach we would pay more attention to the Google Chrome vulnerability email. Here's why:

Although the email to all staff seemed fairly simple, the risks and potential time loss were both higher than that for the leadership email.

If the staff email was poorly done, the cost to the organisation would have been substantial

  • The steps for updating the Chrome vulnerability were easy if you were ‘tech savvy', but could be time consuming if not. In the real situation it proved to be easy to convolute the steps confusing colleagues and leaving a real possibility that they would give up. Aggregate this over 3,000 people and the cost to the organisation of getting it wrong is pretty big.
  • The current risk of being hacked is also intense for this organisation, making the risk of not updating the browsers higher than normal.

If the leadership email was poorly done, the cost would have been less significant

  • The cost to the organisation of the ‘hourly rate' of these leaders taking time to ask questions to clarify the message is less than the potential time cost of the staff email
  • The risks to the organisation are minimal as no extra budget or skills were required and time lost could be caught up in other ways if the project needed to return to the original schedule
  • The project leader is likely to have other opportunities to put their case in the not too distant future should there be confusion stemming from the email

I hope that provides some food for thought this week and look forward to sharing more ideas with you next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

‘Pitch your boss' kit to help you this budget season
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. Clarity First opens again in September

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.

Thinking Tools #9 – Avoiding the ‘we have always done it that way’ trap

Thinking Tools #9 – Avoiding the ‘we have always done it that way’ trap

Growing up we were told a story.

Every Christmas a woman would cut the leg off the turkey before putting it into a very large oven. 

When asked why she took the leg off, she said: “It is the way my mother taught me”. She had never questioned it. In her mind, this was just a normal part of cooking a turkey.

The woman’s mother had a small oven, and so needed to cut the leg of the turkey off so it would fit inside. Her daughter did not. 

In our work it also helps to understand the reasons why people do things rather than just focusing on what they do.

Yet again, Shane Parrish has surfaced some useful thinking skills in his book Great Mental Models v1.

 

“First principles thinking helps us avoid the problem of relying on someone else’s tactics without understanding the rationale behind them”

 

This week I am focusing on two ideas that help us use first principles thinking, both to do with asking great questions. 

The first technique is Socratic questioning 

This technique is useful for us both as we craft our communication and as we evaluate it, or potentially evaluate other peoples’ communication. Shane offers six questions for us to use:

  1. Clarifying your thinking and explaining the origins of your ideas. He suggests asking two questions: Why do I think this? What exactly do I think? In Clarity First we focus intently on these two questions, and particularly on articulating what we do think so we can explain that to our audience in short order.
  2. Challenging assumptions. How do I know this is true? What if I thought the opposite? These are two great questions to use to ‘freshen up our eyes’ so we can see through the substance of our communication rather than just the superficial presentation.
  3. Looking for evidence. How can I back this up? What are the sources? Again, this is something we focus on in Clarity First. We offer specific strategies to help participants test their ideas and the way they are ‘strung together’ to form a coherent piece of communication.
  4. Considering alternative perspectives. What might others think? How do I know I am correct? The way we recommend participants socialise their communication with key stakeholders addresses this point.
  5. Examining consequences and implications. What if I am wrong? What are the consequences if I am? Terrific questions to ask yourself when preparing high stakes communication in particular.
  6. Questioning the original questions. Why did I think that? Was I correct? What conclusions can I draw from the reasoning process? If we are talking about first principles, these last three questions are gold for those who want to stop relying on their gut and limit emotive responses.
Second: The Five Why’s method

If you have ever had much to do with young children, you will know where this has come from! 

We use this technique specifically when clarifying the purpose of our communication. It is about systematically delving into your purpose statement so you can eradicate inaccurate assumptions.

Are you sure you are going to achieve ABC with that specific piece of communication, or that one particular interaction?

We encourage participants to spend the time to become super clear about this as this single statement (which does not even appear in their communication) is key to cutting the number of revisions they will make after drafting. 

I hope you find that useful and look forward to sharing more ideas with you next week.

Davina

 

Related posts include:

 Past posts from this series …  

  1. A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate 
  2. Further thinking tools
  3. Thinking Tools #3 – Using inversions to identify gaps in our thinking
  4. Thinking Tools #4 – Getting out of your own way 
  5. Thinking Tools #5 – Avoiding Blind Spots
  6. Thinking Tools #6 – How to have a latticework of theory
  7. Thinking Tools #7 – Avoiding becoming a tragic tale  
  8. Thinking Tools #8 – How corporate templates can frustrate clarity 

PS – Our new kit for ‘pitching your manager' is now available. It includes an updated program brochure as well as a script you may like to cut and paste into your email or use to guide your conversation with your manager. Click here to learn more.

PPS – I receive a small commission if you click the link and decide to purchase a copy of Shane's book from Amazon.

 

Key words: critical thinking, thinking tools, design your strategy

 

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.

The power of ‘why’ in getting more done quickly

The power of ‘why’ in getting more done quickly

This is what happened to Chad.

Chad is a software developer at a trading firm.

Although fluent, English is his second language and this makes him nervous about his communication abilities.

He has also had feedback that his communication can be too aggressive, which has heightened his anxiety.

However, when I meet with him I find a warm, engaging and enthusiastic person who does not seem the least bit aggressive.

So, what is going on here?

To illustrate, I will first outline the situation that led to a lengthy and frustrating email chain, then offer our before and after emails before offering two questions you can ask to avoid putting yourself in Chad’s position.

The situation that led to a lengthy and frustrating email chain

When Chad and I worked through an email chain between him and some overseas colleagues, the issue slowly became apparent.

His communication was polite and detailed.

But it missed one critical ingredient.

Instead of explaining why something needed to be done, he jumped straight into how the overseas colleagues needed to do it.

This, in turn, led to a ten-email chain debating the details of the task, with a heavy overtone of ‘do it yourself’ from the overseas team.

Let's have a deeper look at the issue by reviewing the original email and an alternative.

Our before and after emails

Even though the information is technical, I think you’ll see what I mean when I show you the original (sanitised) ‘so what’ message versus the revised one:

Original – We need your help to come up with the implementation that supports System A in filtering the symbols and foreignID.

Revised – Given our own ABC filtering mechanism leads to a configuration that is hard to maintain, we need your help to implement ‘System A’ in filtering the symbols and foreignID.

Interestingly, the rest of the email changed dramatically too. 

It no longer consisted of a list of reasons why the suggestions from the overseas team were wrong, it included a list of reasons why he needed their help.

On reflection, he decided that if he had drafted this email in the first place the whole chain of about 10 emails would have been avoided.

And the problem would have been fixed much sooner.

So, how to avoid this happening to you?

Two questions to ask to avoid putting yourself in Chad’s position

This experience raises an important issue for me that I hope will help you also.

Before ‘smashing out' your next email request ask yourself these two questions so you are sure about your audience's situation:

  1. Are we certain that the people we are asking to help us know why we need their help, not just how we want them to help?
  2. How much time would we get back each week if we routinely slowed down and stopped to think about our audience's situation before we hit send?

I hope that helps.

Have a wonderful week.
Davina

Keywords: strategy, emails, ESL

 

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.

Hacks for becoming more strategic – 3

Hacks for becoming more strategic – 3

I am usually not a fan of completing audits.

Keeping records of minutiae has never been my strength.

But, wow.

Even though I have by no means kept a perfect record of what I have been up to over the past couple of weeks, the insights have been powerful.

They have certainly helped me get out of the weeds so I can become clearer about ways – to quote today's interview guest – multiply my impact.

Richard Medcalf of Xquadrant specialises in helping successful people magnify their impact.

He offers a number of terrific ideas including how to:

  • Harness your curiousity to increase your influence
  • Lead strategically when there is already too much to do
  • Use a concept called prisons and fortresses to make sure you get to the things that really matter

And plenty more too.

>> Click here to access the interview as well as some other practical takeaways, including a checklist to help you lead strategically when there is already too much to do.

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.

Shop Co Case Study

During these times of uncertainty clarity in your thinking and communication is vital.

This case study of a communication sent to customers during the COVID-19 pandemic offered an excellent way to illustrate the need for top down and bottom up thinking, a topic we have be discussing regularly of late here at Clarity First.

This rich case study encourages you to:

  1. Take more time to think about your strategy before you start
  2. Work top-down to build your story, testing bottom-up
  3. Anchor everything around a storyline

Click the play button below to learn more and here to download the handout and here for more program information and here for information for your manager

Introduction to synthesis bonus expires 29 July

Kick start your learning with the two-part Bonus Workshop Program

> Get going immediately so you can see results straight away

> Learn the basics so you have a strong foundation to build on

> Complete challenges so you do more than ‘know the stuff' … you can start to ‘DO the stuff'

The Introduction to Synthesis Part 1 Workshop will be held on 30 July at 8am and 6pm Sydney time.

This will be followed by Part 2 on 1 September.

Recordings will be available for those who cannot be present live, or who want to revisit the material.

This bonus offer expires at 9pm AEST on 29 July.

This was the best course I have done. I was always confident in my reasoning but not as confident with presenting it, particularly to audiences that were not on my wavelength.

Davina has shown me how to organise my high level messages which gets me a better response from my audiences.

In fact, when I used the approach to present to the sales team last week half of them came up to me individually afterwards to compliment me on my presentation. That has never happened before!

Bojana

Customer Experience Advisor, Sydney, Australia

 

Clarity First was incredibly useful for me as it has provided a framework through which I am able to structure my initial thoughts quickly and easily.

I have always been OK at delivering communications, but the tools Davina has taught me will not only make the communications clearer and more concise but the time taken to get to the end point has reduced greatly.

I recommend the course to anyone who wants to make existing skills even better or for those that want to create the foundations for great communication.

Michaela Flanagan

GM Performance and Strategy, Insurance Industry

Keywords: ShopCo Case Study, workshop, free

The Art and Science of Communicating Strategically

The Art and Science of Communicating Strategically

The Art and the Science of Powerful Communication

Many of us are asked to ‘be more strategic' in their communication.

But what exactly does that mean and how do you do it?

I share a series of tips through one powerful case study, which does at least three things. It

  1. Focuses on a commonly applicable topic
  2. Offers a complex story with lots of considerations to manage (ie that require both art AND science)
  3. Includes at least 3 takeaways you can use straight away

Click the play button below to learn more and here to download the handout and here for more program information and here for information for your manager.

 

* WATCH UNTIL THE END FOR BONUS DETAILS – EXPIRE ON 16 OCTOBER 2020 *

 

Bonuses expire 9pm AEST 16 October

1-1 Coaching sessions for early birds

Richard Medcalf of XQuadrant will offer the first 3 team leaders a 1-1 coaching session.

Davina Stanley of Clarity First will offer the first individuals a communication coaching session.

Kick start your learning with the two-part Accelerator Program

> Get going immediately so you can see results straight away

> Learn the basics so you have a strong foundation to build on

> Complete challenges so you do more than ‘know the stuff' … you can start to ‘DO the stuff'

Recordings will be available for those who cannot be present live, or who want to revisit the material.

Extend your strategic thinking skills by attending Richard Medcalf's intensive 90-minute workshop.

Recordings available for those who cannot make the 21 January session

Hi Davina
It’s s funny to listen to myself 🙂
Perfectly happy for you to use however you would like.
FYI – I also got an award for my great work today.  Nothing big but still, the recognition was nice.  I feel like much of it was thanks to the work I’ve done with you!
Thanks for creating such a great program.
See you next week!
Cerise
PS You can go here to hear Cerise's story along with that from several other program participants
Cerise

Program Manager, Sydney, Australia

This was the best course I have done. I was always confident in my reasoning but not as confident with presenting it, particularly to audiences that were not on my wavelength.

Davina has shown me how to organise my high level messages which gets me a better response from my audiences.

In fact, when I used the approach to present to the sales team last week half of them came up to me individually afterwards to compliment me on my presentation. That has never happened before!

Bojana

Customer Experience Advisor, Sydney, Australia

 

Clarity First was incredibly useful for me as it has provided a framework through which I am able to structure my initial thoughts quickly and easily.

I have always been OK at delivering communications, but the tools Davina has taught me will not only make the communications clearer and more concise but the time taken to get to the end point has reduced greatly.

I recommend the course to anyone who wants to make existing skills even better or for those that want to create the foundations for great communication.

Michaela Flanagan

GM Performance and Strategy, Insurance Industry

Keywords: Art and Science of communicating complex ideas, workshop, free

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

 

Please note, this post contains Amazon affiliate links, and as an Amazon 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.

Boards at risk of missing material issues thanks to poorly written papers

Boards at risk of missing material issues thanks to poorly written papers

I went to a terrific lunch today hosted by Let's Connect Women, where two senior directors shared valuable insights about life as a Board Director.

Toward the end of the conversation someone asked how executives can help Board Members and the conversation rapidly turned toward board papers.

It was fabulous to hear what they do and don't like, but particularly how they see poorly crafted board papers potentially putting them at risk.

Here is a snapshot of their comments organised according to what they do – and don't like – about board papers.

They DO like:

Encouragingly, Ann Sherry (Boards include Carnival Australia, ING, NAB, Palladium, Sydney Airport, Australian Rugby Union), commented that it is possible to summarise the key points from a 1,000 page report on a single page.

Both she and Patrick Allaway (Boards include David Jones, Fairfax Domain, Woolworths South Africa, Metcash), agreed that this was not only possible but also desirable and that they would like the purpose and key message up front in their papers rather than having to dig for it.

However, there was much more discussion about what they don't like.

They DON'T like:

  1. Being exposed to the risk of missing material issues because they can't untangle the papers to find them. This was a real concern and one we can relate to in many of the papers we see.
  2. Getting a brain dump of the month's activities. This suggests that not much thought has gone into the papers and raises the question about management's decision making processes, not just their writing abilities.
  3. Having to spend all weekend sifting through the papers to identify the core message buried ‘somewhere on page 25'. They would much prefer it to be spelt out up front and supported by the rest of the paper or pack.
  4. Listening to business leaders read through page after page of 40-page PowerPoint decks. They would much prefer the highlights only, given they have read the details before the meeting, and spend the time in a detailed discussion about the issues the paper raises
  5. Forcing themselves to stay awake as someone provides them with every detail they know about an issue. The word coma was used …

I thought you might like to hear it from the horse's mouth.

Keywords: board papers, leadership communication, design your strategy, understand your audience

Kurt Vonnegut had some great things to say about patterns that are relevant in business

Kurt Vonnegut had some great things to say about patterns that are relevant in business

I found something wonderfully useful this week that I wanted to share with you.
Revered American writer Kurt Vonnegut penned these seven storytelling tips that reinforce not only what a wonderful writer he was but also that it is possible to communicate complex ideas while remaining deceptively simple.
As a structured thinking fan, I love the humour and simplicity of his gutsy list of seven parallel ideas.
He recommends that when writing we focus on seven simple things

  1. Find a subject that we care about
  2. Avoid rambling
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Have the guts to cut
  5. Sound like ourselves
  6. Say what we mean to say
  7. Pity the readers

While he's not providing you with a way to achieve these seven things, they are useful reminders of what we need to do. Here are some places you can go to learn more:

  • Watch this short slideshow fleshing out Vonnegut's points further
  • Download these clarity checklists to learn more about the missing structure element
  • Watch out for our book, The So What Strategy, which will be published soon

So, which structure was that? …. Click here to learn more.

As always, feel free to email us at hello@claritycollege.co if you have any clarity questions that we could help you answer.

Regards,
Davina Stanley

Keywords: design your strategy

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 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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

3 tips for THINKING for yourself but WRITING for your audience

When working with a technical team recently I was reminded how most of us ‘write to think' at least some of the time, if not a lot of the time. 

This is particularly the case when working with complex material.

Here's what happens: we sit down to write and map out and fill in our initial crude structure piece by piece. However, while we are doing that our ideas clarify and we become increasingly clear about what we need to convey. By the end of the paper, we are very clear.

However, here's the problem: the writer was only clear about what they wanted to say by the time they got to the end of their document, not at the start.

And what does the reader see first? The start.

And, just when you thought that you could cut and paste the last ‘aha' paragraph or so to the front of your document to fix this problem, think again.

Whether the ‘aha' paragraph is at the front or the back of your document your poor reader is left to walk alongside your own thinking journey to try unpick not only the writer's key insight but how the writer got there.

Here are three suggestions that will help you avoid the “write to think” trap when you next write something so that you provide your reader with a compelling argument that is aimed at them, not at you.

Firstly, begin writing knowing that you are writing for yourself, not for somebody else. If by chance your first draft is fabulous, great: but this is unlikely to be the norm.

Secondly, prepare your early drafts as a note to yourself, not in the final deliverable format. This way you avoid any confusion about your audience as well as the risk of sending something important out before it is really ready. For example, in drafting this post I am writing it in our beta site so that I don't share it with you before I am happy with the content.

When you are confident that your ideas are sufficiently thought through for someone else to comprehend your meaning, copy and paste the text into an audience-friendly format, whether that is an email, memo, letter, report … or whatever you need.

Thirdly, find a way to test your draft before you send it.

Here are three suggestions for doing that:

      • If you are very pushed for time, changing the visual appearance of the ideas helps enormously. You might put the ideas into a one-page storyline format, or into an email, or – even – just change the font so it looks different.
      • If you have a little time, put the draft down and do something else for a while before coming back and looking at it again, or ask a colleague for their opinion
      • If you have a substantial amount of time, leave it overnight and review again in another format in the morning and repeat the process whenever you hit a new milestone.

If you would like some more ideas that will help you orient your communication more directly toward your audience, consider joining the Clarity First Program.

We help you communicate complex ideas so that demanding audiences stop and listen.

 

 

Keywords: #design your strategy, #develop your storyline, 

Helping technical teams turn their communication ‘on its head’

Helping technical teams turn their communication ‘on its head’

Is the gap between the way your technical teams communicate so vastly different from what your leadership needs to hear that you often rewrite their papers yourself – or edit them so much you may as well have?

This is because you naturally understand that you must not sacrifice technical accuracy and incur the wrath of your team (who will accuse you of ‘dumbing down' their work), but that you also must provide a clear sense of perspective and clarity about the context of the work for those who need to make the decisions.

While it is valid to think that in sitting between these two worlds you are well placed to translate for them, there are some practical things you can do to help your technical team communicate to non-technical audiences. 

Here are three to get you started:

Appreciate that “writing” is not the same thing as “communicating” to an audience

Writing is a tool both for the writer to complete their own problem solving and sense-making as well as a tool for conveying ideas to another person.

It is vital that a writer learns to discern when they are communicating to themselves and when they are communicating for another person.

Understand what their audience really needs from them

Have a clear picture of the people they are communicating to: their interest (or lack of) in the writer's pet topic, existing biases, and purpose for wanting to hear from the writer in this particular instance.

Flip their early drafts on their head

When pouring out the first draft or two, writers so often describe their own problem solving journey: “we did this, found this and then did this and … and … etc.”

However, once a writer is more familiar with not just the journey itself, but what this journey told us, they can flip early drafts upside down and communicate the conclusion up front to address our audience's key concern.

Writers are ready to flip their writing to focus on their audience only when they can explain their key points to another person while ‘standing on our head' – not that I suggest you try it: explaining the main points to someone who is not a technical expert in less than a minute will do.

If you would like some more ideas that will help your technical team turn their communication on its head, take a look at the Clarity First Program.

We teach individuals and groups how to communicate so that their good ideas get the traction they deserve.

Keywords: #design your strategy #develop your storyline