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.