FIVE STEPS THAT LEAD TO CLEAR AND COMPELLING MESSAGES
Being clear consists of two things. One is the way we think, which involves the clarity of our ideas. The other is the way we talk, which involves the clarity of our expression. Although thinking and expressing are different, they are closely related and equally important in creating clear communications. This tip will deal with clarity in thinking, the next tip will deal with clarity of expression.
I recently read a definition of executive presence that said it was “the ability to think on one’s feet.” While I agree that executives must be able to think on their feet, I believe a big part of this is thinking before we get on our feet. Unfortunately, too many executives begin communicating – sometimes about very important things—without having spent the time required to think through their ideas and the points they want to make. When this happens clarity suffers. What can we do about it?
Here are five guidelines to help you clarify your thinking before you get on your feet. They’re simple, easy to use, and consistently work if you take the time to conscientiously apply them.
- Create a direct message that deals with the most important things first. Start with the result you want your communication to produce. What do you want your message to accomplish? It could, for example, be getting funding for a project, selling the executive team on a new product offering, or deepening a relationship. Whatever it is, it must be crystal clear to you. It is your destination. You will organize everything that follows around it. Writing it down in a single sentence or two is the best way to begin. It is also critical to think about why you want what you want. The answer will get to the big picture—or end game—by helping you define the greater organizational good your idea is trying to serve.
- Layer your message so details logically unfold in support of the result you are after. While this is often difficult—more so for some executive styles than others—it is a key to clarity, since it prioritizes and organizes supporting detail. It is essential that you spend enough time with it to do it well. When you do it provides an easy roadmap for your audience to follow on their way to your destination.
- Keep your message simple and straightforward. Provide no more detail than necessary to support you main points, but all the detail necessary to do so. This is a balancing act, but one that becomes easier the more you practice. Often, smaller details can be summarized at a higher level to supply solid support without the distraction of too much detail. Think of it as color coding your map to make it easier to follow. You can always provide more detail later, in response to questions or in a handout.
- Personalize your message for the audience you are addressing. To help optimize clarity, visualize your audience, then create a message with that visualization in mind. This will help you target the message to their interests, knowledge level, and background. It will also increase their interest in what you are saying and the perceived clarity with which you are saying it.
- Use language that is appropriate for your audience. This is a reminder to keep jargon out of your communications. While you should always be mindful of this, it’s especially important when addressing people or groups from different functional areas of the organization or outside the of organization itself.