5. Avoid the Chain of Pain by socialising your storyline first
One simple process helps you to gain agreement on your messaging fast
I work with lots of groups, usually from large organisations, who want to improve the clarity and impact of their communication. This week, I worked with an IT team from an energy company and they – like most clients – laughed with embarrassment when I showed them my diagram describing what I call The Chain of Pain.

I began by asking them if they had a name for the process they used to socialise the ideas in a piece of communication and they laughed and said they did: chaos. Does that sound familiar? Is this how it works in your organisation?

Someone asks for a paper to be written: either an ad-hoc one on a particular topic or a routine monthly or quarterly report. The draft is then circulated via one of many possible collaboration tools, most likely email and the relevant stakeholders add words or paragraphs here and there and remove others.

The document does a number of rounds and the end product is a mish-mash of lots of people’s views that dilutes the intended message so that there is hardly any message at all, just a lot of ‘stuff’.

This process is time consuming and frustrating for all involved and often leads to the audience – a leadership team, steering committee or technical forum – coming back with more questions than decisions so that the process can repeat several times before an outcome is reached.
What if I told you this was not necessary, and that adopting the Start, Structure, Share approach not only leads to clearer more impactful communication, it can also cut the amount of time taken to prepare communication by at least half?  Here is how that works. 
  • Work through the Start Thinking and Structure your Storyline process to prepare a one-page storyline to discuss with key stakeholders, ideally in person, to draw out the key messages they want to convey. If the issue is particularly contentious, you may want to discuss the storyline with a couple of close confidants before bringing the main stakeholder group together.  
  • Take their suggestions and rework the storyline to incorporate their views and socialise it again: face to face if possible and if you anticipate the stakeholders having ‘a lot’ more to say before the storyline is nailed down.
  • Prepare the communication – an email, paper or a pack – based on the storyline only once the ideas that need to be communicated are clear.
  • Share the communication with your audience members in whatever form is appropriate: by email, in a meeting, through the governance layers of your organisation.
To show you what we mean by a ‘storyline, here is an example of the storyline for the email to Emperor Palpatine. 

If you read it from top to bottom, working through the 'chunks' from left to right you will see that it maps out the content from the email in module 6, which talks about laying out your communication so it can be skimmed easily by your audience. We find some audience members like to receive their communication on one page as a storyline too.
Our clients who have adopted this approach have seen major increases in productivity. Here are some examples:
  • Cut preparation in half: A projects team at a major telco cut the amount of time taken to prepare for steering committee meetings down from 15 hours to 2
  • Cut paper length in half: Members of the risk team in a large bank cut the length of the typical papers going to the executive leadership team by more than half, and reduced the number of papers presented given once storylined, many did not need executive team involvement
  • Slashed meeting length: The head of audit from a large retailer went from multiple protracted interactions with his boss, the CFO, before major decisions were made to receiving approval for his recommendations within less than an hour.
Download today’s notes and course challenge below. It includes some extra ideas for you too.

More tomorrow!

PS If you want to speed ahead to tomorrow's module today, click 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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