Sharpening your message

A huge part of being an effective leader, especially in a technical capacity, is the ability to clearly articulate what’s in your head. And to really be a superstar, to tailor that message to the person you’re interacting with. I’ve experienced first-hand the pull to want to share all of the details, all of the technical complexities, and make sure they REAALLLYYY understand. But I’ve learned over the years that the most effective way to communicate is to focus on what they need to get out of the conversation, not what I feel the need to tell them. Here’s the framework I use to think through this, then the steps I follow to apply it.

The real secret is that this can be applied in any conversation. It’s easiest to start with the big things, like having an answer to “what’s your value prop?” Once you get the hang of it, you can do this with anything: communicating priorities to your team, answering questions about when something will be delivered, putting out statements on current events, etc.

Here’s the framework

  1. Dump out your ideas

Start by jotting down everything that comes to your mind when you answer this question. Let it flow freely onto the screen or paper. Write why your team is superb, why your knowledge is unmatched, why your product is the most superior. This step will give you a clear understanding of exactly what it is that makes you stand out.

  1. Organize your long form

After laying out your thoughts, you need to organize them. This could be your long-form answer to the question - if the situation permits, of course. It can also be your library of stories if you need to reach back later.

  1. Condense

Next, take your organized long-form answer and pick out the most important points. What parts do you want to highlight? What points are most important for your audience to understand from this message? Try to keep your answer to under one minute.

  1. Condense again

Next, condense again. Now you’re really forcing yourself to identify the top takeaway. The goal here is a one-sentence response with the most important point you want to communicate. Importantly, you could write a couple of options for this single sentence so that you can pick the right response based on the audience. The hope is that if the conversation flows with your audience, you may be able to reach back into your library of stories that are relevant to your points.

If you’re reading this, those 4 steps probably sound easy. If you’re practicing them, it’s ok (and normal) if it feels hard! It takes practice to think this way, but it will come more naturally the more you do it.

Now, here’s how to apply it in any situation

  1. Recognize who you’re talking to!

Before you start to answer, consider the person in front of you. What’s their role? What are their motivations? Are they driven by innovation, or do they care more about experienced leadership?

  1. Identify what they’re trying to get out of the conversation

Next, try to connect what they’re looking for out of the conversation. Maybe they’re a customer prospect who is very cost-conscious because they’re working on operational goals. Maybe they’re a peer who is interested in signals about how other companies are innovating.

  1. Pick the right answer for the environment, person, and goal

Finally, you can pick out the best response for the situation from the exercises above. You could select one of your one-liners that nails a value-prop your audience cares about. You could select your one minute response that covers a bit more detail because you know your audience cares about tactical details.

That’s it! You can use this in nearly every situation: thinking through your sales pitch to customers, prepping for a PR meeting, product positioning for marketing, even your roadmap priorities communicated internally to your team.

To sound natural

You may want to follow the steps systematically the first couple of times, but your brain will warm up to this way of thinking and it will start to come more naturally.

In order to not sound too scripted, try writing your answers out as simple bullet points. Not only will this make it easier to remember, but you'll be able to fill in the prose as you speak each time with no worry about going off-script. You'll sound natural and knowledgeable about your business!

As I mentioned earlier, this framework can be especially helpful for technical leaders where it’s easy to want to share justification and complexities with the person you’re talking to. Just remember that this instinct is natural, but try to shift your focus to what the other person needs from the conversation, follow the steps above, and see how your conversations change!

As always, if this is a skill you’d like to practice with a thought partner, or if there are other communication challenges you feel are holding you back, reach out to me! I’m always happy to help you get unstuck.