How to shorten your communication

How to shorten your communication

Naturally, I want my two new books to be as short as possible, and I've been reflecting on the best way to do that.

It seems to me there are three ways to go about it, one of which is much more effective than the others. Let me explain.

Polish it. I tighten the language and work ‘bottom up' to improve clarity and flow. Shortening comes two ways here. I either tighten the language or improve the synthesis. I have been doing a lot of this, in part with the help of a tool called Hemingway. It's super cheap and I get nothing from sharing it. It's just awesome.

Snip it. Here I go further and cut out chunks that add no value because they repeat or are off topic. This is still a bottom-up strategy, and also one that I have been using with rigour. There comes a point, though, where this isn't enough.

Target it. This is the most effective way to cut. By taking the time at the outset to be hyper clear about the outcome I seek, I change the dynamic three ways.

  • I write less  
  • I know what to cut  
  • I know when to stop iterating and rethink


In working on what I thought was the final version of Elevate, my new book for leaders, I realised that I thought I was at the polish stage. But, I found myself struggling to polish, and frustrated by snipping and moving things around.

This frustration helped me realise I needed to get back on target. The draft wasn't doing what I needed it to do. It wasn't direct enough. It lacked synthesis in some parts and risked losing readers as the flow in one major section wasn't orderly enough.

Although of course disappointing, it is satisfying too. I am pleased to have a clear target to return to.

If you are in the middle of reworking a paper or presentation, where are you at?

Have you thought through what very specific outcome you need? If the draft feels ‘off', what is the best way to fix it? Polish, snip or re-target?

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina


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

How to know if your communication is quality

How to know if your communication is quality

Do you ever wonder if your papers and presentations hit the mark, or if your stakeholders are just being nice?

Today one of my clients laughed and said that at the end of our program, he now has a very different view of what good looks like.

After learning new strategies for clarifying the desired outcome for his communication and then how to structure a message that achieves that outcome, he sees the world differently.

So, I thought I'd share with you the top five questions that he and his colleagues now ask when reviewing their papers and presentations. Does the communication ….

S – Set the scene quickly by drawing the audience toward one insightful message?
C – Convey the right balance of strategic and operational detail?
O – Organise the ideas in a well-structured hierarchy?
R – Ready the audience for a productive discussion?
E – Engage the audience using a medium, style and tone that suits them?

This is one of the frameworks we'll focus on in my upcoming Board Paper Bootcamp programs.

I will host one for the European and American time zones during October and another for Australian and American time zones in March.

>> Learn more here.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – You can learn more about this framework inside the Clarity Hub too.

Can AI write your papers?

Can AI write your papers?

There is much talk about how artificial intelligence (AI) can write for us.

Nikki Gemmell wrote in The Australian newspaper that ‘We scribblers and hacks are staring at the abyss in terms of the chatbot future roaring at us’.

Professional copywriter Leanne Shelton lamented its impact on her business. She expects her copywriting business to take a 35 percent hit this year thanks to OpenAI releasing ChatGPT last November.

I am seeing clients experiment with a range of AI tools to help with their work too.

Yet, like Nikki Gemmel, I am not concerned about AI taking my job.

AI can help the writing process and will stretch us to think harder and better but is not (yet, at least) a match for human insight.

Let me explain why.

  1. AI can’t make a judgement call
  2. AI relies on humans asking really good questions
  3. AI can’t explain how it arrived at its answer
  4. AI’s writing ability is surprisingly poor
  5. AI is inherently biased

Let me unpack each of these further.

 

AI can’t make a judgement call

Even when organisations (eventually) set up their private AI instance AI can only offer limited help. This is so even after proprietary data is fed into it and appropriate access permissions are set up. 

Let’s imagine that we feed the past decade’s board and senior leadership team papers into a proprietary database. We then add an AI engine on top. Leaders and board members could enter queries such as: ‘What is our company’s data security strategy’. The AI engine would then ‘read’ all of its material and summarise it to explain what the papers say about our company’s data security strategy. That is useful as far as it goes.

But what if we asked it: ‘How could we improve our data security strategy?’. Again it would summarise what the papers in its database say about the potential risks inherent in our current strategies. Again, useful as far as it goes.

Assuming the information in the papers is both accurate and complete, the summary may be helpful. I also assume, but don’t know, if it would place the strategy at a point in time or give all the information equal weighting. For example, a five year old data security strategy would be out of date. Would it qualify the information from that strategy as being from five years ago, or merge it with all the other data security items? Would it give these equal weighting? I am not sure, but for this kind of information to be useful we would need to know.

The limitations become even more obvious when we ask the question that we really need an answer to. What would it say if we asked it: ‘What is the right data security strategy for our company in today’s context?’

This is where the human comes in. Opining on what the ‘right strategy’ for a specific company is relies on judgement. So far at least, AI doesn’t have the ability to make a judgement call.

 

AI relies on humans asking really good questions

AI can only answer the questions we ask using the data it has access to. If we ask the wrong question, we will get the wrong answer.

In my experience, asking the right question is a major part of the challenge. 

So even accounting for all of our limitations, humans are at an advantage here. We can interpret the questions we are asked, which can be very useful.

If I ask my team to answer a specific question, and they realise I am off base, they can answer the question I asked but also provide me with what I really need.

They can do this because they understand the context in which I operate, which an AI tool does not.

 

AI can’t explain how it arrived at it answer

While it is fun to ask these bots all sorts of questions to see how they answer, they can’t explain their reasoning. This matters if, for example, we need to audit something.

Imagine if you reported to a regulator that customer complaints for a product like a credit card fell by 20 percent during 2023. The regulator will ask you to provide your evidence to have confidence that this is true.

In the current world you can unpack the data feed. You can explain where the data was collected and when, how it fed into a dashboard that generated the result.   

AI doesn’t allow you to do this, it just asserts what it found using its own hidden processes.

 

AI’s writing ability is surprisingly poor

I put this to the test recently in a conversation with a client. Brooke had been playing with ChatGPT to see if it could help her write a risk memo on non-lending risk acceptance in digital processes.

The result was both unhelpful and hard to read. It identified that operational, cyber and compliance risk needed to be considered. While the information was true, Brooke already knew this and the output lacked context.

As a test, we put the response through my favourite writing tool, the Hemingway Editor. This involved copy-pasting the text from ChatGPT into Hemingway, which then evaluated the writing quality.

It assessed the quality was poor and gave a reading age of Grade 14.  That means it was written at university level. It classified 13 out of the 20 sentences as very hard to read.

You might not think is a problem given many people reading risk reports are university graduates.  It is, however, well above the grade 8 that I recommend for my clients to ensure fast and easy reading for busy executives. In contrast, this article scores at Grade 7.

We then asked it to improve the language of its original draft and re-tested with Hemingway. The new draft came in with a reading age of Grade 9, which was a significant improvement if we can ignore that the content was unhelpful.

I have repeated the test and had similar results.

 

AI is inherently biased

This is where the discussion gets really interesting. I have asked Chat GPT and Google’s equivalent, Bard, to provide me with information about topics that interest me.

I find it is useful when asking for facts. For example, which podcasts discuss board paper writing, or perhaps what art schools offer weekend life drawing classes in my city. The tool provides a tidy summary that is easier than hunting through links provided by Google or Bing.

I worry about its responses that include opinion, however. I had some fun and asked some personal questions to see what it would do.

For example: ‘How does the moon affect women’s health?’. Chat GPT claims the moon doesn’t affect women’s health. In contrast Bard described this as a contested area and offered a list of areas that are currently being researched. In this instance, the Bard answer was more accurate and more helpful.

In contrast, when asking about sensitive topics the answers were both contradictory and troubling. Both Bard and ChatGPT have strong views about topics such climate change and the move to electric vehicles among other things.

Both began by explaining that they were AI tools that could not offer opinion before doing just that.

Given AI is a tool coded by humans, those humans influence how it works and the results it gives. We need to be very aware of this and evaluate any results we receive accordingly.

My conclusion is that although AI is a fun tool to play with and can be useful for finding information, it needs to be used with care. It won’t replace human judgement any time soon. It will, however, push us to get better. We need to critically evaluate anything it ‘spits out’ and lift our own game so we are adding real value not just regurgitating facts.

 I hope that helps.

Cheers, 

Davina

How to reduce rework for high-stakes communication

How to reduce rework for high-stakes communication

Over the past two weeks I have shared two ideas to help you lift the quality of your own papers and presentations.

Today I share the third. It might seem like an odd one, but bear with me. It’s about velocity.

How quickly can you develop and deliver powerful insights that lead to fast, high-quality decisions?

In reading Colin Bryar and Bill Carr’s excellent book, Working Backwards, which describes Amazon’s secret to success many insights stood out.

The principle of velocity was one of them.

Amazon has gone to great lengths to maintain velocity in all areas of its operations so it can maintain its ability to execute quickly on innovative business lines.

Great effort is taken to remove bottlenecks and keep the teams on their ‘front foot’.

Communication is one of those areas. I see an opportunity to insert structure and discipline into the communication process just as you might any other business process.

Imagine this: Could board papers receive ‘minimal adjustments’ at each layer of your organization’s approval chain? Even better when the Board approves the idea the first time it is presented.

My client from the supply chain team at a large retailer, coined a term that I’ve borrowed: they call it the Gold Standard. Here’s how it works:

Someone prepares their highly structured one-pager either alone or with colleagues, before socialising that page with stakeholders. This triggers constructive debate around the big picture ideas and how they connect with the data. By socialising a one-page ‘message map map’ rather than a polished document at least four important things happen.

  1. Everyone in the process can review the message map and respond quickly with constructive suggestions to refine the thinking. One CEO client tells me he block-reviews papers and spends an average of 15 minutes on each paper. This is a marked reduction in the time he previously spent reviewing papers for the Senior Leadership Team and the Board.
  2. Everyone feels as though they have permission to debate the ideas. When someone receives a document that someone has obviously ‘sweated over’ they feel less comfortable about having the debate. It feels like a ‘correction’ rather than a ‘conversation’.
  3. The team isn’t wedded to unhelpful concepts and charts that ‘must’ remain in the document. As soon as we create a chart or write a section, we become wedded to it rather than the ideas it represents. We spend time trying to ‘fit it in’ rather than stepping back and looking at the overall message we need to convey.
  4. Less time is spent preparing prose and charts that turn out to be off point. Rather than focusing our energies on preparing polished drafts, we can focus on the messaging.

Once the ideas are locked in, the paper is prepared and sent up the chain for, hopefully, only minor adjustment.

In this model, teams focus on finessing ideas rather than tweaking words, fiddling with PowerPoint connectors or following a format.

This liberates you and your team from the awful game of ‘red pen ping pong’ so you can focus on higher order activities.

Our clients frequently see a 30 percent lift in velocity when drafting papers and presentations. This impacts both team members and leaders. Some teams, such as those outlined in the next section, achieve materially more than that.

Before establishing some concrete goals for you and your team let’s be inspired by what is possible.

Ask yourself: What do you need to change to get to the Gold Standard for you and your team?

I hope that helps.
Davina

PS. You can find the first two parts of this series on Communication Quality here:

  1. The most important measure of communication quality
  2. Is your communication insightful?

RELATED POSTS

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.

Is your communication insightful?

Is your communication insightful?

Last week I introduced the most important metric for evaluating whether communication is of a high standard or not.  It’s not what you think.

If you haven’t read it yet, go here.

Today I move onto sharing my second ingredient for quality communication: quality of insight.

Let me ask: Do your papers deliver significant value to your project, team or organisation? Do they connect some dots to offer a new idea that adds value to the strategy, returns, processes or perhaps by reducing risk?

This relates to synthesis, which is where both the challenge and opportunity lie when improving high-stakes communication.

In his 2005 book A Whole New Mind best-selling author Daniel Pink commented synthesis as the ‘killer app’ in business in what he calls the new Conceptual Age.

 

“What’s in greatest demand today isn’t analysis but synthesis – seeing the big picture and crossing boundaries, being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole”.

 

Or more simply, the formula we used at McKinsey is that synthesis is summary + insight.

SYNTHESIS = SUMMARY + INSIGHT

Without wanting to be too pointy about it, Daniel Pink was right. Most people can summarise. So can natural language processing tools such as ChatGPT, if given the right data set.

The real value we humans bring is to connect that factual summary with our own insights stemming from our understanding of the context.

So, to offer high-quality, valuable insights, you need to be technically strong and in touch with commercial and stakeholder imperatives.

This means that you and your leaders need to work together. You need a common strategy for tying together complex ideas to make them seem simple.

You need a structured way to collaborate when synthesising your message.

So, ask yourself about the consequences of delivering poor-quality insights. How well thought through are the ideas your team shares with you?

When it works, individuals and teams get the balance right between the import of the message, the value it delivers and the time they invest to prepare it.

And, as I mentioned last week, they do it with minimal rework.

This brings me to my third ingredient, velocity, which I’ll talk about next week.

Cheers,

Davina

 

 

RELATED POSTS

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.

The most important measure of communication quality

The most important measure of communication quality

 

When trying to work out if your communication is any good or not, do you wonder what is the most important measure of success?

I have an unusual take on it.

When it comes to important papers, my hunch is that the single most important needle to move is the amount of time you and your colleagues spend reworking them.

If there is little rework, then they are fit for purpose. If there is much, it’s not a good sign for anyone.

That single measure may be enough. You may, however, like to dig a little deeper.

This week I’d like to offer the first of three measures you can use. Let me give you a preview and then dive into today’s topic: Clarity.

  1. Clarity – Can you glean the core messages within 30 seconds of opening a paper or presentation?
  2. Quality – How valuable are the insights?
  3. Velocity – How quickly can your team develop and deliver powerful insights that lead to better decisions?

Let me now dig into the first of these. Can you glean the core messages within 30 seconds of opening a paper or presentation?

This is where we ask whether the communication misses the mark. Are you  

  • Writing Agatha Christie reports that leave the big idea until the end
  • Asking your decision makers to conduct Easter Egg Hunts to find the insights or
  • Delivering papers that are either wafer thin or worse. They miss the point altogether.

We ask how well the messages jump off the page (or out of the mouth) so that your audience can grasp them quickly. How easy are they to find in the paper, presentation, discussion, email or other communication form?

Clarity helps us quickly see what the message is and check whether it does what is needed.

As one board director suggested recently, she would rather read papers that did not require him to conduct an Easter egg hunt. She does not enjoy hunting around ‘the garden’ of the paper to find where the insights are hidden.

She wants them to pop off the page so she can quickly skim the paper to decide how to read it.

Try asking how often a reader can glean the message within 30 seconds of opening the paper. You can also apply this to emails and other communication too.

While clarity is critical, though, it’s not enough. To quote one of my ‘crustier’ clients, the head of credit risk at a large bank:

“The team can now craft much clearer messages, which is very useful. But how do we stop them putting ‘rubbish’ in the boxes?”.

This leads me to my next dimension: quality of insight, which I’ll dive into next week.

Cheers, 

Davina

 

RELATED POSTS

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.

Going from good to great

Going from good to great

Jim Collins coined the term ‘from good to great’ with his seminal book of the same title, which I am sure you are familiar with.

This is a challenge many of my mid to senior leaders wrestle with as we lift the quality of thinking in their major communication.

Here are some thoughts that emerged from this morning’s coaching session that might help you too.

Focusing on the gaps in the story particularly where the value is not well-synthesised is a quick way to shift from good to great. Here are three gaps we identified in our example:

Good is readable, but typically summarises more than synthesises. Synthesis is where the gold lies. This is where we go from saying ‘this is what the data says’ to saying ‘this is what the data means’ in this context to this audience.

This is good news, as the AI tools can (so far at least) only summarise. They can’t put the data into context. More on that another time.

Good has a small number of top-line points. This means the story isn’t an Agatha Christie hunt for the information. It’s laid out so you can find it fairly easily.

Good leaves value on the table. The story we reworked today missed several key ingredients, but most importantly it didn’t surface the reasoning. It didn’t explain why the recommendation was the right one to implement.

Keep your eyes peeled for the ‘why’ in your communication. It is often lacking in examples that cross my desk.

I hope that helps. More soon.

Davina

PS – Do you write papers for senior leaders and Boards? If so, I’d love to hear about your key challenges. Click here to share them.



RELATED POSTS

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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 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

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.

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

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 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

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.

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

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.