Why formatting really matters

Why formatting really matters

You may have noticed that I focus heavily on the substance of our communication potentially at the cost of minutiae.

While I hold to that, I do think formatting matters for emails and other documents as it helps you keep track of your story while simultaneously helping your audience navigate through it.

So, how do we get that balance right?

Here are some simple principles and templates to help both you and your audience to see the hierarchy of your messaging.

Firstly, some principles to help you signal which part of the structure each element of your communication belongs to. In more detail:

  1. Make the ‘so what’ pop off the page using white space and bold
  2. Use bullets and / or numbers to encourage you to break out your points and avoid ‘block shock’
  3. Break up sections that are longer than 3 lines so your audience can ‘see your point’ without working too hard

Secondly, some templates to help embed instructions inside your documents as reminders and also ways to minimise the need to think about process.

  1. Consider setting up some email signatures with instructions and formatting embedded within. Download two examples here that you can copy paste into your own signatures.
  2. Explore using ‘comments' inside your important templates to remind you how to use structure. Download a sample Board Paper template here which you can easily adapt to other forums. Select ‘view markup' to see the comments.

I hope these help and look forward to bringing more ideas to you next week.

Kind regards,

PS – Don't forget to register for this week's working sessions too. Go to the Session Registrations tab in the main menu to do so.

A script to help you get feedback on a storyline

A script to help you get feedback on a storyline

This week one of our number was using a storyline with their manager for the first time and was wondering whether there were ways to set up the conversation better.

In the spirit of helping, I have outlined some suggestions to help you explain to a ‘non storyliner' how to engage in a storyline.

Here's the draft for you to cut and paste into your own email or to stimulate a conversation as well as an opportunity to download the draft here.


Hi colleague / boss,

I have been thinking about X issue and have outlined my early thinking on a page for your consideration.

Before you review it, I'd like to explain how the page works so the diagram makes sense to you.

  1. It is a discussion draft. Although the ideas are I hope in a clear and logical place within the structure, the ideas are very much open for debate. I thought mapping them out like this would help us discuss the issue further so we can land on the final messaging.
  2. It outlines my current thinking in a way that may seem more assertive than usual. You will see that the ideas are anchored around a single message that is crafted as a point of view. The technique I am using encourages us to flush out the main thought and be upfront about it, before diving into the details below. As mentioned, the ideas are very much open for debate.
  3. Once we agree on the messaging, we can easily turn these ideas into a well-structured document of any kind. I would like to hold off on preparing the document until we agree the ideas to minimise rework. Focusing on the one-pager first will keep us focused on the main ideas and encourage us to ‘nail these' without being distracted by document formatting. My experience so far suggests we can save time this way.

I look forward to discussing issue X with you further in our upcoming meeting.




 I hope that helps.

Kind regards,


Hacking requirements for a job application

How do you handle being provided with 7 criteria that must be addressed in a cover letter when you want to offer a tight message highlighting your strengths?

In this short session, we showcased a strategy for ‘hacking’ requirements on a job application letter. This strategy allows you to give the potential employer what they want while making sure you also get to feature the skills and experience you wish to.

Including your storylining and communication skills, of course!

UPDATE: A few weeks later, we had the chance to work through the cover letter Andrew created as a result of our first session. I've included the recording below as it is a useful example of how to finesse the final product.

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.

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.