A fast hack for structuring your message

A fast hack for structuring your message

My husband and I were just talking about the new ‘synthesis' capabilities that Adobe is embedding into its software.

This led us to a debate about the extent tools like this could be useful … or perhaps even replace us?

Here's my take.

These tools will both help us and require us to lift our game so we can offer insightful points of view, particularly to senior decision makers. Here are four thoughts to help you do that.

Use tools like this to summarise – ie paraphrase – volumes of data. They can help organise the information and present it clearly, mostly by categorising the material. Be careful, of course, that the ‘machine' has enough of the right material to work with.

Understand that summary alone is not enough. Summary is helpful, but only looks backwards at what has happened already. This is necessary but not sufficient for decision making.

Learn to synthesise powerful points of view. Synthesis is where you connect dots between past experience, case studies, analogies and our own understanding of the present to create a point of view.

Leverage communication patterns. What if you could work through a decision tree to pick which pattern helped you convey your point of view best? You could take the data summary and combine it with your own insights to convey a powerful point of view with compelling clarity.

You might even get it done without multiple late nights iterating the message.

I shared how to do this at last week's MasterClass, along with my revised set of 10 patterns and my new Pattern Picking process.

The edited half-hour recording is inside my (still free) Clarity Hub, along with a fast hack for picking the right pattern for your situation.

>> Access the Clarity Hub here.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

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

I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

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

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • 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
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com

 

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

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

I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

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

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • 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
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com

 

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

Why you should ditch your corporate templates

Why you should ditch your corporate templates

I had a wonderful session with a team of engineers from an energy company this week.

They told me they had done something risky and that it worked.

They ditched their corporate template​​ when preparing their business case and got a ‘fast yes'.

“We managed to have 6 people working on the business case at once. Everyone knew their part and how that fitted in to the overarching storyline.

“We had two years of supporting information that we were able to quickly sort through and synthesise.

We ended up writing and getting it approved within 2 weeks which was an amazing outcome.”

Charles, team leader

In the past they had thought they had no option but to fill in the sections within the business case template even though they hated it. It was frustrating to use as it caused them to repeat themselves while also including all sorts of irrelevant information.​

The template was typical: it included a long list of ‘pots to throw ideas into', or categories they needed to fill in. You will be familiar with the sort of thing. It's useful for collecting ‘data' and making sure the team has thought of everything during their analytical process.

Background

Proposal

Goal Statement

Scope

Approach

Key Milestones / Deliverables

Enterprise Architecture (interfaces)

Constraints / issues

Dependencies

Financial consideration

Summary

Assumptions

Benefits

Non-financial benefits

Benefits management plan

Risks (3 types)

Change assessment (many types)

Next steps

Recommendation (at the very end …)

The template design created extra tension for them as they were caught between ‘filling it in' and a leadership team that wanted them to keep it short.

So, the team decided to do something different.

Here's what they did instead.

Step 1: Agreed the storyline structure. The team leader sat down with one other senior team member who was also advanced in their use of our techniques to think through the high-level storyline structure they needed to prepare.

They went back to first principles to think about what they needed to achieve and where their audience's ‘heads were at'. They then thought about what they needed to explain if they were to achieve what they believed they needed to with this presentation.

Although they then discussed some ideas around the messaging, they didn't fill in the structure. They just made a call as to which of our seven storyline patterns suited their situation the best.

Step 2: Brainstormed the messaging for each part of the storyline. They then called a team meeting to talk about preparing the paper for the business case. During this meeting they used the storyline as a framework for the discussion, which led to a brainstormed list of points to be discussed under each of the four key messages that supported their main point.

Step 3: Wrote it up. Four people took away one section each to write it up, which turned out to be fast and easy to do. Why? Because they all

  • Had a clear view of the overall story
  • Understood how their piece related to the whole, and so avoided overlapping with what their colleagues were to contribute
  • Were confident in the messages they needed to convey within their own area
  • Were able to tell the story in a logical, cohesive way that enabled them to support their single point of view without feeling as though they need to discuss topics that were not relevant to their story

Step 4: Finalised and presented the paper – and got a ‘fast yes' from the leadership team along with a series of compliments. Here are just two:

“I didn't even need to read the whole thing. The thinking was so clear and transparent at the top, I knew I could trust what you were saying.”

“This was super easy to read”

Interestingly, none of  the leaders complained that they had deviated from the corporate template.

The team was also pleased that the story flowed with what they felt was a ‘unified voice' even though different people had crafted different sections.

So, there you have it. 

A great real life example of where a business team thinks from first principles about ‘getting things done' rather than following procedure because it's the norm.

 

 

This article was prepared by Davina Stanley, founder of The Clarity First Program and author of The So What Strategy.

Davina has been helping experts communicate complex ideas for more than 20 years.

She began this work when a Communication specialist at McKinsey & Company and has since helped experts of all kinds strengthen their communication skills.