2 ways to spend less time prepping your comms

2 ways to spend less time prepping your comms

Love or hate Jeff Bezos, he has had some very, very good ideas when it comes to decision making communication.

I was talking about one of these with a client earlier this week. Given she liked the ideas and planned to implement them, I thought I'd share them with you also.

The most prominent idea relates to avoiding PowerPoint in favour of tightly crafted prose narratives to maximise quality decision making. Let me explain the two key ideas my client found so useful.

Avoid PowerPoint presentations. In relying on Edward Tufte's work on visualising information, ‘Jeff' decided to ban PowerPoint for reasons that seem sound to me.

  • Preparing decks is hard to do it well, and he questioned the value of spending lots of time fussing over lining up boxes and making ‘pretty slides' versus thinking hard about the ideas to convey.
  • Presenting is a slow way to convey ideas. According to Tufte, we can absorb information three times faster by reading than by listening to a presentation.
  • Great presenters can ‘wallpaper over' cracks in their logic with their energy and charisma, leading to poor decisions.

Here's what they do instead.

Rely on short, tightly crafted prose narratives instead. They don't insist on any particular way of writing these, just that they be short and effective in setting up a great discussion. Their use in meetings is, however, prescribed as follows. The papers are

  • Read during the meeting. This at least two few benefits: everyone actually reads the papers and the quality of the thinking is better because of the extra focus paid to them.
  • Designed to be a ‘goldilocks length' that takes about a third of the meeting to read. They suggest 3 pages for a 30 minute meeting and 6 for a one-hour meeting on the assumption that the typical exec takes about 3 minutes to read a page. Interestingly, apparently Jeff Bezos is always the last to finish reading as he critiques every single sentence by asking: what if that were false?
  • Reviewed in advance to ensure they deserve their place in the meeting.

I hope that provides some useful food for thought. A number of my clients are moving to prose-only papers for senior bodies.

I'd be interested to know the balance in your organisations. If you click the relevant link below, I'll see the tally and can factor this into my program design for you.

In my organisation, decision making papers are …

When you click the link it will take you to the site.

More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – Please do tell your friends and colleagues about the Thinking Skills workshop that I am hosting later this month. I will introduce some foundational ideas that will help them (ie they will get a small piece of what we offer inside Clarity First). Learn more here.

Pimples: clarity of communication = clarity of skin

Pimples: clarity of communication = clarity of skin

This is an unusual post but one I hope will help.

I just responded to a post by an old friend, Dr James Muecke who happened to be Australian of the year in 2020 for his work fighting sugar.

Look at how well he simplified and shared the message, even though he put the ‘so what' in the middle.

Let me annotate to explain myself before reordering to achieve what I think would be greater impact and of course offering the original.

Annotation to explain my thoughts on each point

Great (cheeky?) use of humour – Zits away …?

Demonstrates credibility – This recent systematic review concludes that “high glycemic index, increased glycemic load, and carbohydrate intake have a modest yet significant proacnegenic effect.”

Simple and visual summary – In other words, sugar => pimples

Clear takeaway that had me thinking about the young people in my own family – This might just motivate your kids to reduce their sugar intake …

Suggested revision

Zits away …?

A recent study might just motivate your kids to reduce their sugar intake …

In short, sugar => pimples

This recent systematic review concludes that “high glycemic index, increased glycemic load, and carbohydrate intake have a modest yet significant proacnegenic effect.”

Original version (see below)

I kept this to the end of the post so it didn't distract the flow of the points. Putting visuals in the middle of relatively small amounts of text means that even though the reader needs to ‘bounce around' to read, they don't lose the text.

I hope that helps.

Cheers,
Dav

PS – this might be a good time to revisit your negotiation skills given we are heading into Easter, which some might also name a ‘sugar fest'!

I do kid in that regard, but also encourage you to catch the myth busting negotiation skills interview I conducted last week, which you can find in the library.

I encourage you to take advantage of the free diagnostic too. I did it for myself and it was eye opening.

How to get people to read AND reply quickly to your emails?

How to get people to read AND reply quickly to your emails?

I realise in some ways emails seem a bit basic, or even hum drum. We receive tens if not hundreds daily.

And, if we are honest, we read them quite selectively. How many unopened emails are lurking in the bottom of your inbox?

So, if we are selective … so are the people who receive emails from us.

Tricky!

How do we make sure our audiences read and reply with what we need from them quickly? Here are three ideas to help:

#1 – Say something useful. Basic, I know, but often not so.
#2 – Use simple visual formatting so your message is easy to find
#2 – Insert tables, screenshots and other images with care.

Let me unpack each of those for you.

Say something useful. How many emails are never opened and not missed?

To be useful, think super carefully about your purpose and make sure you are adding value to your recipients before you hit send. In particular,

  • Think twice if your purpose is ‘so they know what is going on'. Ask yourself WHY they need to know what is going on? What will they do with that information? Do they really need to know?
  • Minimise the number of people you CC. If your recipients receive loads of emails from you, important ones won't stand out.

Use simple visual formatting so your message is easy to find. I am shocked at how often I brace myself to read emails that appear in my inbox. Here are three tips to reduce this shock for your recipients:

  • Include plenty of white space. You will note that in this and other emails from me, I allow white space before and after sections and in particular around my (usually bolded) main message.
  • Avoid underline. It clutters the page and makes the words hard to read, even though it does draw your eye to the line itself (but not to the word).
  • Only highlight the key message unless your email is long. If long, highlight the top line supporting points as I have done here.

Insert tables, screenshots and other images with care. A great example of this came across my desk this week, which in part stimulated this post.

My client offered about six screenshots along with five lines of text to explain her problem. However, she inserted the text in between the screenshots, which rendered them invisible.

To avoid that happening to you, I suggest keeping tables, screenshots and other images to the end of your email.

The only exception is where there is just one visual followed by a big block of text. If you add just a few words after an image they will be lost.

I hope that helps and look forward to providing more ideas next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Free Workshop – Debunking 3 Business Negotiation Myths

Negotiation skills go hand in hand with communication as they help us go beyond being ‘just' clear so our messaging is also compelling.

I had the recent pleasure of meeting Matt Lohmeyer of Negotiation Partners who shared some fabulous ideas about business negotiation.

For example, he encourages us to NEVER say no.

His reasoning was fascinating, and led to a deeper conversation about how to shepherd an idea through an organisation as well as how to negotiate formal and informal deals.

>> Click here to register for this Friday 8 April workshop (8am AEST).

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,
Davina

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.

How to handle ‘background’ in board papers

How to handle ‘background’ in board papers

How often do you see decision making papers that begin with a section for background? And … how often is that background really, really long?

This is a problem on a number of levels, not only because board members and other leaders routinely list ‘too much background' as one of their pet hates.

Some audiences, however, have greatly mixed needs for background which creates some difficulty.

So, what to do?

I am offering five strategies you could employ depending upon your confidence regarding the audience's situation.

Where you are confident that the audience needs a ‘quick refresh' rather than an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issues, adopt these two strategies:

Strategy #1 – Refer to and link out to any past papers to avoid repetition but still provide new members with access to the relevant history. You might say something like this: In last month's meeting we discussed four potential options for solving problem X (See last month's paper here). This is easily done where you are using an electronic paper system, such as BoardRoom.

Strategy #2 – Include relevant past papers in an appendix. This is useful when you don't have the ability to hyperlink to the past paper.

Where you are not confident that the audience will remember the content (perhaps because the discussion was truncated or you have a highly technical issue that is on the margins of their experience), include the information in the story in one of three ways.

Strategy #1 – Weave the messages into the new story. If reminding them about options discussed earlier, you might go with a deductive structure to allow more room for reasoning. Here are two suggestions.

  • Use a To Be or Not To Be structure to explain the options before making your recommendation, rather than just saying ‘Option B is Best before offering a list of reasons why you are recommending it.
  • Remind them of the problem being solved by merging Houston and To B or Not To B. You can use a Houston structure for your ‘statement', and following with ‘However, Option B is Best' for your comment and then leading into your therefore, implement Option B.


Strategy #2 – Use a Watch Out pattern to include a generous amount of detail on what's been done so far. This is always a useful pattern for when you need to change direction, but where your audience isn't keeping up with you, you may find it useful to be ‘fulsome' in your statement. The comment that allows for ‘risks ahead' can be tweaked in all sorts of ways to allow for necessary changes that you have just identified.

Strategy #3 – Add a section in your grouping to cover off on the ‘background'. This could be done (at least!) two ways:

  • In an Action Jackson story where you are describing how to implement something, start the first section with a message like this: “Become familiar with the options available”. This provides an opportunity for you to then describe the options as the first step in a process.
  • In a Pitch Pattern, weave the information throughout the story as you touch on key topics. If you are referring options, then describe the options in a deductive flow underneath the “We have a great solution” section.


I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina


Related posts …

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.

Regards,
Fred

++++++++++++++++++++++

 

 

Kind regards,
Davina

 

PS – Watch out for a separate email this week inviting you to an opportunity to hear from William Cowan, on Building a Winning Career.

William is terrific and we are privileged to be the first to hear about his new book, which launches on the day of our interview.

I hope you can join us at 8am on Thursday 2 December Sydney time. We will of course record for those who can't make it.