Have you noticed how easy it is to spot the tiny errors in communication, particularly when it was prepared by someone else?

When our stakeholders read our paper, watch our presentation or lose the thread of our message when we speak, they focus on the things they can understand.

This is, I think, why feedback often doesn't help us much.

We are asked to improve things that are easy to fix but sit on the surface of our communication: our ability to write, prepare charts or to find ways to become more confident in front of the room when presenting.

Feedback around the substance comes in the form of generalities that are hard to pin down such as ‘be more strategic' and ‘focus less on the detail' without specific advice on how to do that.

The challenge is to work out how to communicate so you get fewer:

  • Clarification questions
  • Requests to meet and discuss
  • Requests to rework your presentation

My number 1 suggestion for combatting this is to spend more time than you think you need to in clarifying two things before you prepare your communication:

Your purpose: What do you want to achieve with this specific piece of communication?

Your audience: Who are they really and what information do they really need from you to get the outcome you seek?

These two areas are foundational in nailing your messaging so you get less of the wrong kind of feedback, deliver more value … and enjoy your work more.

One of our clients summed it up beautifully this week:

“The magic about storylines is that they don't often get noticed or stand out unless you've made a mistake and it is harder to make mistakes when you use them”

Have a great week, everyone,


This post 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 since joining McKinsey as a communication specialist 20+ years ago. 

She helps experts clarify their thinking so they can prepare powerful and strategic communication in any format. It might mean preparing for a difficult meeting, getting ready for a project steering committee, putting forward a business case or writing a board paper.

She bases her approach on The Minto Pyramid PrincipleⓇ combined with other powerful techniques to help experts of all kinds globally strengthen their communication skills.