1. Be clear about your communication purpose before you prepare anything
Two ways to get more decisions than questions  
PS. Scroll to the bottom for the module download and a chance to go straight to module 2.

Sometimes the simplest fixes create the biggest difference. Clarifying the purpose of your communication does just that.

Many, if not most, of my clients dive into preparing their communication right from the minute they know they need to prepare an email, paper, or deck.

They like to think and write at the same time, which I understand completely: so do I. It can be a useful way to brainstorm, so long as we are clear on where 'thinking writing' does – and does not - lead us.
It leads us to be clear about our message at the end of our ramblings. At this point we are clear about our message, but that clarity is largely - if not totally - absent for our audience.

They will have wandered through our thinking journey and either taken a mental detour or switched off well before the end.

This problem is even more acute when we do not have a highly specific understanding of why we are communicating to them in the first place.

Lack of clarity around what we want to achieve from each piece of communication leaves us vulnerable to creating a ‘nervous parade of knowledge’ or a ‘kitchen sink’ communication that includes every conceivable detail about a topic, so we can avoid being wrong.

Unfortunately, this guarantees we will be wrong: We won’t put a clear idea forward. Our audience won’t know what we are saying. And if we are asking for something, all we will get is a long list of questions.

So, here are two steps to take to avoid confusing your own audiences:

1.  Separate your broader strategic purpose and your specific story purpose
2. Focus on audience outcomes, not your inputs, when articulating your story purpose

Let’s look at these in more detail now.


In work life, we always communicate for a purpose, and yet we aren’t always able to articulate what that is. Here is a story about my client 'Gus', a mid-career actuary from the Risk Division of a large bank that illustrates this point.

Gus needed agreement from a report owner and the reporting team to implement a new data collection tool for preparing a particular high-stakes report.

The tool would gather and sort the input data from many internal finance systems so the reporting team would no longer need to manually gather and manipulate the data.

Instead, they could focus on the fun stuff: analysing and drawing insights from it.

Given the benefits seemed obvious, Gus assumed implementing this tool would be straightforward and required only one story outlining steps for implementing the tool. 

However, he had not realised that the business leader was concerned about any change to the report as he was concerned about looking foolish when presenting an error to the CEO.

Not realising the differences between his audiences and the different objectives he needed to have when communicating with each brought him unstuck#. And not just once: twice.

Once he understood the difference between his broader strategic purpose (getting the new system implemented broadly) and his story purposes (ensuring the reporting team knew how to do it and that the general manager would support it happening) he prepared two different pieces of communication.

I encourage you to think carefully about what you can realistically achieve from each specific piece of communication and be willing to take several steps to achieve your overall purpose, rather than just one. It is counter intuitive, but it may well save you time.

In the next point I share a simple way to get to the heart of the purpose for a specific piece of communication.


One of my favourite clients, an accountant called Tracey, explained the difference that thinking carefully about her purpose made for her.

Tracey wrote tons of short emails. They would typically be simple: asking for information so she could move a line item from one client account to another, or similar.

However, she found that she spent an awful lot of her time chasing the partners in her firm to get answers to what she thought were super simple questions.

This all changed when she focused on her purpose. Here’s what she did:

Before she began preparing her email she asked herself a quick question: What do I want this particular audience to know, think or do as a result of this communication?

Once she was clear on that she was able to get to the point much more quickly in her emails, and she found that some people would reply, almost instantly.

The amount of time she spent chasing them radically shifted and she enjoyed her job inordinately more.

The difference here is in the twist: She wasn’t asking ‘what do I want from this communication’? but rather, ‘what do I want my audience to know think or do as a result of this specific piece of communication’?

This sentence seems simple – and on the surface it is. But I encourage you to dig deeply to get it right. 

I find it often takes a few ‘goes’ at getting clarity around the purpose, and that the first thing my clients suggest they want to achieve really isn’t it what they need at all.

In today’s coaching session with a team of property experts, for example, it took four of us four goes to get it right. Our first ‘go’ was this:

As a result of this email I want the landlord to allow us to proceed with our site renovation.

After several attempts, with me continuing to ask ‘why’ (I use the simple and powerful Five Why’s technique) it ended up being quite different:

As a result of this email I want the landlord to be ready to detail their timing and scope for their upgrades to the Mall so we can synchronise our own store renewal program when we meet next week.

The communication for the first attempt would have looked very different than the revised version.
Once you are clear about your purpose, I encourage you to think about your audience. The two are linked and you may need to iterate between the two, particularly where complex and high-stakes communication is concerned.

In the meantime, download today’s notes and course challenge below. They include some extra ideas for you, as well as a summary of the key thoughts from today's module.

Stay tuned!

PS There is a bonus for you inside the email I just sent you. Search for Technical Expert inside your inbox to find it.

PPS If you want to go straight to module 2, click here.


# 'To come unstuck' is a term Australians use to explain that someone has got into trouble. Other colloquial terms we might use for a similar situation would be 'to come a cropper', 'to come undone', 'to get into strife'. All of which have a similar meaning.
This short, free course is prepared by Davina Stanley, who has spent more than 20 years helping technical experts communicate better. She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company's Hong Kong office as a communication specialist. Having lived and worked in Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo and Melbourne Australia, she is now loving living in Sydney.
Davina offers face to face and online skill building programs for technical experts who need greater cut through in their communication.

Her signature program is the powerful, 3-month Clarity First Group Coaching Program which runs twice each year. 

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