Transcript: CUWC – Strengthen your critical thinking abilities


Hi, I'm Davina Stanley, Managing Director of Clarity College. We help business people and people in government make the complex clear and the clear compelling in their business communication, particularly when communicating upwards.

This is part three of the Communicate Up With Clarity course. Today, I want to help you strengthen your critical thinking abilities, that give you the ability to deliver powerful messages that keep your audience's engaged and stop them asking that awful question, ‘So what? What does this mean for the business?' And if you've already watched the first videos, you'll already know why I think that's important. You need to make sure you can analyze, synthesize and organize your ideas so that your audience doesn't have to, so you don't lose them, so they don't misinterpret you, so their brains don't decide they're burning too many calories and check out. The challenge is that this will require you to burn a lot of your own calories with your own brain instead.


So here are three things you can do to strengthen your critical thinking abilities that you need to engage your audiences without burning too many of those calories yourself. Firstly, learn how to summarize and synthesize. Secondly, learn to leave out the material that doesn't support your main point. And thirdly, learn how to test if your story stacks up logically. Let me run through these one by one.

So firstly, learn how to summarize and synthesize. Now powerful business communication is not powerful because it's fancy, because it's polished, because it's delivered charismatically. Confident delivery is important but it's not enough on its own. Business communication is powerful because it contains high value ideas that are presented in a way that they're easy to grasp. So the first step that you need to take is to work out what your high value ideas are so you can articulate them clearly and this requires you to be able to synthesize, and summarize. So how do you do that? The first thing to do is to jot down your ideas and order them to make sure they all belong together. You might get a list of items like this item, these series of images on the screen. There are three problems that have been recently occurring within a warehouse and each of those boxes has a description of those problems inside. If I take a step back and ask myself, what do these three facts tell me, what are these three problems all about? I'll come up with something like the idea on the top. We had significantly more delivery errors this quarter than normal. And that's a useful description of what happened. But senior audiences need more, they need to understand why this matters to the business or to the department and to them. Here I've crafted three potential messages for different audiences in one particular business, the CEO, the division head, and a tongue-in-cheek one for the colleagues. Can you see the difference? The summary describes what the data says. The synthesis offers a point of view as to what the data means to that particular audience. Summary is very helpful in providing updates but synthesis is much more powerful. It will make you stand out among your peers. It does, however, require you to have a point of view.

So my next point is that you need to leave out the material that doesn't support your main point. So now it's time to get ruthless by organizing your communication to support your point of view, some of your material will naturally no longer fit. It's tempting to leave it in to demonstrate how much work you've done. But at a minimum, I'm going to encourage you to put it in the appendix, ideally, leave it out altogether. And here's a story to explain how this can work. Today, one of the participants in my 90 minute online Clarity Clinic shared a story that summed it up beautifully. Olga is an analyst in a funds management business and recently she spent a day on a company tour, learning about the company's operations. You can imagine it was seven hours long, she toured the floor, she learned from lots of different leaders in the business all about the business itself, its operations, its success, all sorts of things, so that she could then report back to the fund manager who would make a decision to buy hold or sell this particular stock. Olga's previous approach had been to offer a transcript of her notes that she'd tidied up. After a whole day tour, this could amount to 10 pages of notes. However, after doing this course, she changed her approach. And what she did this time meant that she delivered only five pages of notes that were organized by theme. And they had an executive summary up front. And so when I spoke to her boss about this, he was thrilled because it took him so much less time to read it. He was able to get the gist of what she was saying. But not only that, he wasn't just hearing what the people had told her on the tour. He was hearing her analysis, he was hearing from her the value add that she could actually deliver, which if he'd asked her in person, she could have said. So the alternative here was instead of delivering 10 pages of transcript, Olga delivered five pages of insightful value add material that her boss found it's so much easier to follow. He was able to skim it, worked out what the high level themes were, and understand what Olga's opinion was, what her point of view was, about that particular company. So grouping, summarizing and synthesizing the ideas to identify those key things made it such a better result for Olga and also for her boss. So if you want to make sure you get the kind of reaction from your boss that Olga got from hers, you need to be confident in the logic that you're presenting.

So the next thing I want to talk to you about is how you can be sure that your logic stacks up. Now, you'll see that we have a Ten Point Test here, which is on the screen and this is what Olga used to assess the validity of the story that she presented to the funds manager. She wanted to make sure that each of the five ideas that she was presenting truly belongs together, and that they supported the proposition that she was putting forward about whether they should buy, sell or hold this particular stock. Now, you'll see in the Ten Point Tests that's on the screen in front of you now, that there are four sections to it, each of which relates to a different aspect of the communication. Now, the first challenge is to make sure the introduction is right. Does it lead you and your audience to the right starting point for this piece of communication? And we have three specific questions to ask to assess whether that is the case, and in our courses will teach you how to stitch those together. The second section offers two questions that relate to the main idea, the So What?, the governing idea the answer to the question, we want you to set your audience up to ask you. And you see that we give it two points there because we think it is so important. Having that single point of view is the whole point of using this methodology, having a single point of view and backing it up. The next section starts to dig into the logical construction of the supporting points, to ask whether they belong together either as a grouping or a deductive structure. And this is essential. If the ideas don't belong together logically, then your So What? will be flawed, and your articulation of your argument will also most likely be flawed. And this is where we ask you to override your own brains design, which was conserve calories, and start thinking hard to synthesize and summarize your ideas accurately. If you don't want loads of questions challenging your point of view, and you want to avoid that So What? question, your logic needs to be watertight. The last section asks you to assess how well you've addressed both the heart and the mind of your audience. And this of course, is equally important if you want to engage them in what you have to say.

Now that you've got some ideas on how critical thinking can help you improve the clarity and impact of your communication, in the next video I'd like to talk to you about your working process. This is another area that's often overlooked, and where you can change a few things to increase the impact that you have. And the bonus news is that it will also save you lots of time.