A Board Director recently described his problem with Board papers to a colleague of mine.

He said: “He disliked feeling as though he was conducting an Easter Egg hunt when reading Board Papers.

“He would much prefer spending his energy evaluating the ideas in the paper than trying to find them.”

One of the main reasons this happens is that background sections are too long. Many paper-writers often feel the need to deliver lots of history, definitions and detail at the start of the paper.

The idea is that doing this helps the audience understand what the paper is about so they can understand the punch line.

Unfortunately, it has the reverse effect, switching most audiences off.

This is one of the key reasons why I encourage you to keep your context and trigger short, to no more than 15 percent of the length of the whole paper. Here are some thoughts to help you achieve that.

  1. Include definitions in an appendix. You can refer to it the first time you mention a technical term that you think some readers may not be familiar with. If it is a completely foreign idea to all, then define it at the point of reference, perhaps as a footnote.
  2. Only include familiar ideas in the context and trigger. By this I mean, only include things that you can reasonably expect your audience not to be surprised by. Save new and surprising items until the so what or later.
  3. Use the context to introduce the topic in a timely and tight way. You might, for example, think back to the last time you discussed the relevant topic with your audience and remind them of that.
  4. Weave history and detail into the story itself. This way you present ideas as they are relevant to the audience rather than out of context.

I hope that helps. More next week.