6. Use your storyline to frame the structure of your communication
Turning technical experts into great communicators
We have found that documents read best if the storyline structure matches the architecture of the communication as directly as possible: even when using templates.

This is true regardless of the form you are using: email, papers, PowerPoint packs. Anything.

Let me explain how that works for PowerPoint both when you have the freedom to organise the slides in any order you like and when you must conform to a template.

Let's take these two situations one by one.

Free to organise the slides in any order: Storyline and pack structure match exactly 

The storyine has informed the pack structure below exactly. This is not the Palpatine example which I used in module 5 - which does not lend itself to a pack - but another business example with some notes to explain how a storyline links to a pack.

In sum, the ideas are ordered to match the order of the story: titles of pages are driven by messages, not topics. The title page also includes the main point, not just the topic.

Take a moment to review it below.
This is an enormously powerful way to prepare your communication as it
  • Makes it easy for your audience to find your high-level messages
  •  Enables your audience to skim read your communication to get the gist very fast 
  •  Suits multiple audiences, enabling each member of your audience to dip in and out of the communication as it suits their needs 
  •  Provides a simple document architecture that focuses on the key issue at hand, sorting out material that isn’t essential to that message
Using a corporate template: Storyline and pack structure match as closely as possible  

You may rightly comment that there are many times when you must work within a corporate template, which does not follow the same structure as a storyline. However, there are ways of handling this to make the best of both the template and the storyline. Here are the three most common scenarios that I see when working with clients:
  • Slice and dice: Where you need to manually populate a template, think about where the different parts of a storyline might fit within the template and 'slice and dice' the storyline to fit after your ideas have been clearly mapped out on a page. Even though the order of the ideas will be affected, the key points will be covered and the messages will have been drawn out from your data and articulated clearly.
  •  Mini story for each section: Where you have a high-level set of topics to cover, perhaps for a routine monthly or quarterly report, prepare an executive summary on the front page and then have a ‘mini story’ for each section to elaborate on each of the points from the executive summary page. Each mini story would have its own main point and be supported by a list of supporting messages. 
  •  Add a storyline up front: Where you are presenting a standard format data report that does not allow for editing anything other than the page titles, do two things. Firstly, draft a message for each page that encapsulates the key takeaway for that page. Secondly, add a page at the front to present your story illustrating ‘what this data pack means for us’. If you cannot attach the page at the front of the report, then either talk to it when you present the data, or include the story in the email you send the report with. 
Even though working with templates can be fiddly, they are a helpful way for an audience to explain what content must be included in the report. Taking the effort to meld the storyline with the template means you will be confident that you have done yourself and your data justice.

In wrapping up this series, I hope this has been helpful and look forward to occasionally sending you more ideas to help you communicate with greater impact.

Use the button below to download today's notes, which as always, include some extra ideas for you too.

Keep in touch.
Davina Stanley

PS If you have not received the other modules, sign up 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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