How to ‘amp up’ your message

How to ‘amp up’ your message

In a recent working session, we worked up a ‘soft’ sales pitch for a software company to deliver to an existing client.

Hiding inside are some useful lessons that will help you increase the value you deliver when communicating.

To illustrate the point from the get-go: which is more useful to you?

  1. The most outstanding lesson to me is the difference between structuring our communication around ‘categories’ versus around ‘messages’.
  2. The most outstanding lesson to me is way we can ‘amp up’ the value we deliver by structuring our communication around ‘messages’ rather than ‘categories’.

My hope is that you went with #2!

The first is a bland statement, and the second offers a clear point of view. Let me unpack that more for you using today’s example and a couple of other recent ones also.

Today’s example emerged from a visually stunning template that hid the messages

Today’s initial draft that used the organisation’s ‘classic’ template had some terrific things going for it. It was stunningly branded and designed, had very little information on each page and was visually crisp. It had super short titles like:

  • Product name
  • Problem
  • Team

These are useful categories to cover but hide the message. What are you saying about the product name or the problem? In fact, what IS the problem you propose solving?

This is something I see a lot across all of my clients, especially when templates are in play, so I thought worth raising here.

Using message titles massively ‘amps up’ the value you deliver when communicating

The ‘amp’ comes from delivering a point of view rather than just data.

This requires us to take a risk when thinking through our communication which might feel a bit scary, but which demonstrates we are in a ‘thinking role’ not just a ‘doing role’.

If we want to transition from operations – or deliver maximum possible value in our operational role – I suggest that this is essential.

Business leaders who compliment their team’s communication are rarely first and foremost focusing on their language use.

They may comment on the polish as an aside, but they focus on the substance – the value-add.

You go from ‘product name’ to ‘Product X is a great fit for you, or perhaps Product X is well placed to solve Y problem (that you currently face)’

Or, perhaps, from ‘Team’ to ‘Our team can integrate seamlessly with yours given our existing relationship’

This is also relevant outside sales environments, such as this one.

So, let’s amp up your own communication by using 3 steps to layer messages onto the categories
  1. take advantage of your ability to categorise at the outset by jotting down the high-level categories you want to discuss in your communication. This will help you get started while also helping you assess whether the ideas are MECE.
  2. describe your observation about that category
  3. now go further and draw out your insightful message about that observation.

Here’s an example from a non-sales setting:

  • Category: Current landscape
  • Information: We need to understand the current landscape from everyone’s perspective
  • Insightful message: Understand that the current process isn’t serving anyone’s interests

You may also like to visit this post where I talk about the communication value ladder. It offers more insight and examples to illustrate the sorts of communication that adds value.

You will notice that ‘category' doesn't even make it to the bottom of our value ladder.

I hope that helps.

Have a great week.
Davina

Want ideas for getting the most out of the program?

 

I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:

 

  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.
How to close the gap between what is on your head and what is on the page

How to close the gap between what is on your head and what is on the page

In conducting a quick review of Brian’s email at the start of this week’s working session we identified some common challenges that stem from a common problem.

How do we match what the reader takes from the page with what is in our heads as the communicator?

This is the holy grail of communication and can be particularly challenging to achieve when trying to follow the ‘rules’ of building a storyline.

With practice, these two things come together, but today’s example highlights some traps to avoid during this learning journey while also reminding us of how to bring the ‘real world’ together with the theory.

[As an aside, I want to thank Brian for sharing this one with us. There was lots of good to take away about the supporting structures … the opportunities for improvement lay particularly with the introduction.]

Tip 1 – Start the story ‘very close’ to the real event rather than going back in time

 

Starting with ‘screeds of background’ is one of the biggest complaints senior leaders have of decision-making papers and updates.

It is also a turnoff for other audiences who need to wade through it all before getting to the main game.

Yet, this is a very common challenge I see in corporate communication of all kinds, which stems I think from a fear of the audience not knowing enough history about the topic being discussed.

So, what to do?

Imagine yourself sitting down with your audience with a cup of coffee. Speak the words you would say to open the conversation. Out loud, possibly into your phone to capture them, not with your fingers on your keyboard.

These may well be the words to use at the start of your communication and if not, they will get you closer than starting ‘writing’.

Here is the difference you will see:

Context going too far back in time –

Regulations that came into effect on 1st June 2021 are being addressed in the Project by implementing a new database and new commissions processing system (Performio). Imagine a few lines of details explaining what has been done to implement the new system.

Context that reflects the right point in time (acknowledging the sentence is a bit long) –

One of the key decisions we need to make now before we go live on 1 October is whether we switch now to the new system or continue to operate the old system in parallel to allow more time to integrate Performio with its dependent systems.

Tip 2 – Avoid conflating the trigger for communicating with the trigger for doing something. These are not the same thing.

 

We use the trigger in storylining to explain to our audience why we are communicating to them about the context right now. We do this so that

The words we use in the trigger will prime them to ask the question we want them to ask.
The link should be so smooth and obvious, they can go nowhere else but to the question we are sending them to … so we can answer it with the ‘so what’.

We don’t use the trigger to explain what has happened to cause the problem or deliver the opportunity we are presenting. This will either be known to the audience and so appear in the context, or news and appear in the so what or the body of the story.

Let me use this example again to illustrate what I mean.

Trigger for communicating –

I have a recommendation for managing this process that needs your approval.

This leads to the question: What is your recommendation?

Trigger for doing something –

Testing analysis for both the database and system have revealed gaps and defects that are currently being fixed for retesting.

This leads to several questions, none of which help set you up to provide the message you need to provide: So? Why do I need to know that? How is this relevant to me?

 

Tip 3 – Craft the question to include only knowledge that you have provided the audience so far in your communication

 

In Tip 2 I explained how using the trigger for doing something sends the audience away from, rather than towards, our so what message.

Another challenge is drafting the question using information that is in our heads and not on the paper.

The initial question from this email was:

Question: Why do we need to retain BCS-BBC processing of Mixed deals in October?

This included information that was not presented to the audience in the context and trigger.

The question needs to flow naturally and so obviously it feels redundant. It might even seem stupidly simple.

Click here >> to get the full before and afters and view the recording.

I hope that helps and look forward to bringing you more next week.

Kind Regards,

Davina

Want ideas for getting the most out of the program?

 

I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:

 

  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.

Deciding how far to go when helping your colleagues improve their communication

 

We recently had a fantastic session with some of our seasoned Clarity First members about how to help your colleagues with their communication.

The session raised some really interesting questions:

From your perspective – How expedient should we be to protect our own workloads when helping others vs ‘going the extra mile’ to demonstrate to them the value they COULD add as well as the traps you see them falling into because they have some gaps or other inadequacies in their communication.

From the audience's perspective – What would you value from a colleague? A few quick tips or some strategically game changing advice?

From the business’s perspective – what is the greatest value you can add … by investing more in your own priorities or helping your colleague with theirs?

 Listen in to the great conversation for some practical tips and download the session notes below.

 

Keywords: Design your strategy, Develop your storyline, Patterns, Stakeholder management, Leadership

Need help getting started with the Program?

 

I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:

 

  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.
How to differentiate between the CTQ and a deductive flow

How to differentiate between the CTQ and a deductive flow

I was working with a group of leaders at an insurer this week and we stumbled across a common challenge that I thought you may also relate to.

Those of you who aren't up to deductive structures yet, don't fret: there's something here for you too.

The nub of this challenge centres around how we differentiate between what to include in an introduction versus the statement and comment within a deductive flow.

Let me first explain the relevant principles and then offer the story to put the theory into practice.

The principles: knowing what needs to be known versus news helped us decide what to put where

The two different storyline elements that we needed to work with were:

  • The introduction (the context, trigger and question or CTQ), which contains information that should be known to the audience and sets that audience up to ask a question we want to answer with our So What.
  • A deductive storyline (a statement and comment leading together to a single recommendation), which contains information that is not known to your audience and persuades them that our recommendation is the right one.

The question then is how these two principles helped us sort out what to put where in the storyline.

The story: knowing simple storylining principles shifts the whole communication strategy, not just the words conveyed

First, I'll introduce the situation and then I'll outline the before and after storylines along with the epiphany that led to the shift from one to the other.

The situation …

We were discussing a stakeholder engagement strategy concerning a digital strategy. As with many a new strategy, stakeholder engagement can be as central to the strategy's success as the strategy itself.

In this situation, a new very hands-on CEO was in place and the team realised they needed to engage her in the early thinking behind the strategy before going any further, even though this meant going back in time from their perspective.

Their conclusion was that if they didn't, she would derail all of their work.

The deductive draft based on a Houston we have a problem pattern …

We started with patterns and then mapped out a Houston pattern which I have paraphrased:

Statement – Despite strong business and technology capabilities, we don’t have a cohesive digital strategy (supported by evidence)

Comment – However, aligning around a vision for the digital channel is essential if that strategy is to succeed (supported by explaining why this is essential in an unusually ambiguous and complex org arrangement)

Recommendation – As a result, we need to align around a vision for the digital channel (supported with steps for gaining alignment)

The epiphany that led to the change in structuring …

After drafting this, two epiphanies occurred:

  1. They didn't need general alignment across the organisation, but rather specific alignment with the new CEO who could then drive further alignment in the organisation.
  2. The idea that any kind of alignment around the strategy was needed was obvious to the two leaders who were to be part of the discussion, and so not news to them

It is interesting to me that reading this now, these conclusions seem pretty obvious. In the moment, though, the circumstances were so convoluted and messy because of the organisation ambiguity, that they felt like real insights.

The revised storyline to support a discussion with two leaders …

As a result, our statement and comment for a presentation quickly became the introduction for a conversation (not a document) as follows:

Context – Despite strong business and technology capabilities, we don’t have a cohesive digital strategy. Aligning around both the vision and the strategy for digital is essential to the strategy's success (no evidence needed: this was known by all).

Trigger – We have a suggestion for a way to gain alignment around the digital strategy.

Audience question – What's your suggestion?

So What – We recommend you (the two leaders in the discussion) meet with the new CEO to engage her in three potential options before we go further.

Supporting points –

Here's why we think that is the way to go:

  1. Her track record suggests that she is very hands on and is unlikely to support any initiative that she has not been involved in designing
  2. She has a vested interest in this area, heightening the need to involve her directly and soon
  3. Even though we are well progressed, going back in time to engage her in our foundational thinking around the options will enable her to contribute, allows us to incorporate her thinking and reduces the risk that all of our work will be junked

I hope that's useful and look forward to sharing more ideas with you in next week's email as well as in our regular Tuesday sessions.

Register by going to the Session Registrations tab if you are able to attend. We'd love to see you there.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – Please note the site looks a bit different than it did two weeks ago. We hope it is easier to navigate: please do let us know if you find any glitches or we can improve further.

Need help getting started with the Program?

 

I had a terrific conversation with one of our new members today who was bemoaning her lack of progress in the program so far. Like many of you, she has a busy job and hasn't yet found her ‘groove'.

Here are three ideas that she thought would work for her, that might help you also:

 

  1. Listen to some of the interviews stored in the library during your commute. There are a number, all tagged ‘interview' on topics such as board papers, hypothesis driven problem solving and how to get the information you need from busy stakeholders to prepare a piece of communication.
  2. Lock a time into your diary near the start of your day to complete a module or two. Instead of leaving your learning to the end of the day where it may be ‘run over', locking away 15 minutes will see you finish a module, giving you something useful to try that day.
  3. Set up a time for a 10 minute chat with Sheena to learn to navigate the portal. If you aren't sure how to find what you need, Sheena is very happy to Zoom with you to demonstrate.
Thinking Tools #3 – An upside down way to find gaps in our thinking

Thinking Tools #3 – An upside down way to find gaps in our thinking

The first time I recall using the inversion strategy was during my interview with McKinsey.

I remember a Senior Engagement Manager called Saimond putting me through my paces around a case and then posing a leading observation.

“So, you have given me some great demand side ideas there …”

As someone with a kindergarten teaching and then communication background I had not used economic concepts much. But thankfully I had helped review my university boyfriend's economics essays and twigged that he wanted more and different ideas from me.

So, I responded that he was right, and that perhaps he would like some supply side ideas too?

I then invented some on the spot. Using opposites has turned out to be a useful thinking strategy in many situations since.

It is also another model discussed in Shane Parrish's new book The Great Mental Models which I posted about last week.

Given some of you have asked me to pick my way through Shane's models in bite-sized stages, I am extending my series of posts on this book. Today's focus is on opposites, or as Shane Parrish calls them ‘inversions'.

There are a number of natural places to use this strategy.

Firstly, when choosing a set of options to evaluate. He offers two strategies to help you use inversions:

  1. Start by assuming that what you are trying to prove is either true or false, then show what else would have to be true
  2. Instead of aiming directly for your goal, think deeply about what you want to avoid and then see what options are left over


Secondly, when ensuring our ideas are MECE. This works both when we are communicating and also when solving problems (which I will talk more about during the Hypothesis-driven Problem Solving series I am planning for March).

I thought you may find it useful to have a list of examples of where I have used inversions recently that you could also apply in your own communication. 

I have ordered them according to the three lenses we use for checking whether our ideas are ordered well:

Structure

  • Internal versus external (eg as in forces acting on something)
  • Supply versus demand (eg economics)
  • Hard versus soft perspectives (eg McKinsey 7S framework)

Time

  • Current versus past or future (eg activities, plans)
  • Experienced versus inexperienced (eg team members)
  • Old versus young / new (eg equipment, technology)

Degree

  • Hot versus cold (eg could be literal or metaphorical)
  • Increasing versus decreasing (eg prices)
  • Large versus small (eg anything measurable!)


Remember: step one when organising your ideas from the bottom up is to work out the categories. Step two is to work out what you are saying about those categories.

I hope that helps.

Talk soon,

Davina


PS – Related posts include:

From this series …
  1. 5 Ways to be MECE in your communication
  2. Further thinking tools

Past posts on thinking skills …
  1. How to use your critical thinking abilities to turbo charge your communication
  2. Strengthen your critical thinking abilities
  3. 4 Ideas to make structured thinking stick
  4. Awesome problem solving strategies
  5. The value of thinking-top down versus bottom-up (for Sprint and Momentum Members)


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

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

I loved my ‘fast fly’ through this book and am realizing how much more I am finding useful by going slowly and preparing these posts for you.

Thank you!

I am still in the introduction reading about the power and dangers associated with mental models and the concept of blind spots has jumped out at me as worth our attention.

In the Great Mental Models Vol 1, Shane Parrish suggests that we need a latticework of mental models to be maximally effective.

He quotes Alain de Botton from How to Make a Decision

“The chief enemy of good decisions is a lack of sufficient perspectives on a problem”

 

Taken together these points are a powerful reminder on how to avoid blind spots.

Bring people together who have a variety of models in their heads to work through any problem.

In our world of storylining, there are many ways to collaborate to get to a better answer faster. Here are two strategies:

  1. Prepare an initial one-pager before discussing with colleagues and then stakeholders. This is a great strategy if you have a fairly solid knowledge of your content and have colleagues who are ‘Driver’ styles and would prefer to react to a draft than be drawn into the often-messy thinking process. Once you have incorporated feedback from your colleagues and stakeholders, it is then time to turn those ideas into a doc. Assuming, that is, you still need to present them after your discussions. You may not … the job might be done by then.
  1. Get in a room (virtual or physical, depending on how you work) and build either an outline or your whole storyline together from the ground up.
    • If leading a group to collaborate on a doc, you may want to work through the initial elements together (purpose, audience, CTQA) and then agree who will write what sections. You might sketch out the top line argument before sending them off, or stop at the ‘So What’, depending on what works for that story. You will of course want to come back and check once everyone has drafted their section. Experience tells us that these initial sessions increase the chance that a doc prepared collaboratively will sound like it has ‘one voice’.
    • If collaborating with peers, you may like to build the whole thing together in a few sessions on a whiteboard or using one of our one-page strategy templates.

I hope that helps.

More next week!

Cheers,
Davina


PS - Related posts include:

 

From this series ...

  1. A fabulous thinking tool to help you solve problems and communicate
  2. Further thinking tools 
  3. Thinking Tools #3 - An upside down way to find gaps in our thinking
  4. Thinking Tools #4 - Getting out of your own way

Related Topic ...

  1. The One Page Strategy Working Styles 
  2. Template - Design Your Strategy 
  3. Awesome problem solving strategies

 

 

 

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

 



 

 

 

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.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.