3. Don't make your audience do all the work
Three things to avoid when thinking through your communication
When we must read something that is poorly crafted, one of two things happens: we very quickly switch off and strop trying or we work extra hard to make sense of it. Unless they know something is of critical import, senior business leaders switch off surprisingly quickly. They will wait for a subordinate to raise the issue with them in person rather than investing the time and energy to read something that is poorly crafted.

So, it’s worth taking a step back to understand what we should not be doing if we want senior leaders – or anyone important, be they a customer or a colleague – read and respond to our communication.

Here are three of the most common traps we see technical experts falling into with their communication, all of which make the audience work harder than they want to, lead to ambiguity and a risk that your message doesn’t get cut through.
  • Taking our audience on a journey
  • Recording our ideas as they occur to us
  • Including everything we know about the subject
Let’s now look in more depth at each of these elements.

1. Taking our audience on a journey

It is very tempting – and we see people do this a lot – to take your audience on the same journey you took through your analysis, by giving a blow-by-blow description of every twist and turn in your problem-solving journey. This would be appropriate if you were recounting a holiday, but less so if your intention is to convey the significance of your work.

In fact, we encourage you to flip the order so your audience can find your message easily and you also have an opportunity to explain the details that support your point of view.

The graphic below illustrates what we mean. In the first section, it illustrates your problem solving journey. First you gather data, then you analyse it, synthesise and identify your message. Much technical communication follows this path, however, it makes a lot of extra work for your audience, which is why we recommend flipping the order and communicating your message first.

2. Recording your ideas as they occur to us

It is also tempting to take your audience on a stream of consciousness journey, explaining one part of the story and then leaping to another the way author Gabriel Garcia Marquez does so eloquently in his landmark novel ‘100 Years of Solitude’. 

Unfortunately, your audience did not sign up to go on a magical journey through your analysis, while you jump from one idea to the next until the ‘aha’ moment emerges right at the end. 

3. Including everything we know about the subject

Or, you may be inclined to put everything you know about a topic onto paper to make sure you don’t leave anything out. This comes across as a nervous parade of knowledge without being clear about the reasons why you want to say what you say.

However, it is safe to assume that all (certainly most!) of the people receiving your communication are intelligent people who are in a hurry.

They want you to have a point of view and get to it quickly: they are not there to read for pleasure and do not want to work too hard to find your key ideas.

So, please do avoid the journey, the stream of consciousness and the nervous parade of knowledge when you next communicate!

In tomorrow’s email I will give you some ideas for drawing insights out of your data to tell a clear and compelling story that gets to the point.

In the meantime, download today’s notes and course challenge here. It includes some extra ideas for you too.

Until tomorrow.

PS You can go straight to the next module by clicking here.

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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