Picture yourself at either end of the following situation: You’re out with friends, maybe at a birthday party or a social event from work. A friend of yours starts telling this story about something incredibly funny that happened to him. He can hardly hold his laughter while telling the story. When he gets to the crucial part, everybody in the group just stares at him blankly…. nobody gets it. Why is this so funny? Seeing the look on everyone’s faces, he says, “You just had to be there!”
Not all information travels well, and good storytellers are few and far between. It takes skill to captivate an audience and not only entertain, but also bring a message across. As good storytellers are hard to come by, reports were invented to fill the gap. Reports also tell a story; they’re a bit more forgiving in that they can be perfected before going out, and they scale a heck of a lot better than employing storytellers for every deliverable you need to get out to a client.
At SIG, we deliver a lot of reports to our clients. And although we try to effectively get the message across verbally, whatever remains after a final presentation is the final report. This report should speak for itself. The message was not only relevant for the people at the table, but also in other parts of the client organization. To have a report convey this well, it needs to adhere to our quality Principle #2: My Message is Easily Transferable.
Package your message so it can travel
If your message isn’t transferable, your impact is limited to the here and now. Only those who were there are knowledgeable about the points you made and the advice you gave. So, your message needs to travel through time and the organization to have a bigger impact and therefore more value. Your message should be understandable for all stakeholders, even when you aren’t there to explain it. People who have already heard it need to be able to easily relay it to others.
That said, complex situations don’t always lend themselves to generating short, concise messages. As the message grows in size and complexity, the skill required to captivate and entertain an audience becomes more and more important. At SIG, we pride ourselves in making complex situations easy to understand, which is one of the hardest parts of what we do. We have found that holding to some best practices really help in this:
- No jargon Although jargon speeds up communication between people heavily entrenched in a certain industry/culture, it assumes a lot of up-front knowledge. This limits how well your message travels, also vertically across the levels of an organization. Jargon can also hide how knowledgeable people really are in certain cases; we’ve all heard of the BS bingo.
- No frills Every word and line in a document contributes to factors like readability, clarity, etc. If you put something on a page, it should have a meaning and purpose. Simplicity is beauty in and of itself, don’t let aesthetics take attention away from your core messages.
- Concepts deserve a picture We don’t want our clients to have to read a thousand words for every concept we want to communicate. The best way to transfer a complex concept is to put it into a simple picture. If you are unable to do that, you need to break it down, because the concept is clearly too complex to explain.
- Be concise The shorter and clearer the message, the better it travels. Period.
- Get your voice over in there When presenting a report, we often hear the presenter saying “Actually….”. A colleague of mine calls this the quintessential point at which you need to review the message you put on paper (Thank you, Marijn). Apparently, it’s not what you wrote down, but rather what you were saying to explain it that needs to be put in writing.
These best practices help us at SIG to make our messages travel as much as possible. I hope you can use them to increase the impact of the stories that you are telling to the world around you.
Read part 1 in this series: Living By the Code: 5 Guiding Principles for Producing Quality Work
Read part 2 in this series: Quality Principle #1: My Work is Evidently Valuable
Read part 4 in this series: Quality Principle #3: My Findings Are Fact-Based
Read part 5 in this series: Quality Principle #4: My Solution is Tailored
Read part 6 in this series: Quality Principle #5: My Recommendations are Actionable