19 October 2016

Communication for technical experts: #4 Bonus questions and answers

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Yesterday, I thoroughly enjoyed presenting a webinar hosted by Velpic to a very responsive group online. Our participants raised a number of great questions, and here is the essence of my answers.

How do I use a storyline when I have to present information in a standard template?

Organise your ideas into your storyline first. Don’t write to the template, write to the storyline to get your thinking clear, and then work out which element of the storyline fits into the template.

In situations where you can’t edit the template (like in a finance update, or a report from a system that generates a monthly update) where you need to present the facts, have a separate one-page story.

What kind of business communication does this work best for?

Storylining works for most types of communication: anywhere you need to put across a series of observations or information, anywhere you need to put forth a proposition.

In our world, we tend to think of eight categories of communication:

  1. Action stories and plans
  2. Alerts
  3. Business cases
  4. Change stories
  5. Compliance stories
  6. Options stories
  7. Proposals or pitches
  8. Updates

A wide range of everyday business communication benefit from this approach.

Is the use of framework or structured communication always effective regardless of the audience?

When you have your thinking clear, and you’ve mapped out your ideas on a page, whiteboard, or piece of paper, that helps you work out what your communication strategy would be.

Using our 5-step process—to think about your purpose and your audience, your introduction, what your key question is, what the answer is, and how to support it—is enormously helpful in preparing most business communication.

You might also use it for meeting preparation, where you map it out, really keep things tight to time, and keep referring back to your points.

Are there any additional strategies or communication styles that you recommend, that would tailor your message based on your audience?

Presentation skills: You might want to get lessons in presentation skills if you have a high-stakes presentation to make—perhaps to the Board, to get some funding for your business, or for anything that is really going to make a big difference. Focusing on your presentation skills can help you build engagement and an emotional connection, and throwing in some extra charisma helps to engage your audience as well.

Creative storylining: For example, one of my team presented a recommendation for improving logistics for a theatre group. To engage this artistic community in a potentially dry subject, they first got their thinking really clear, then put the actors on a bus with some cheese and wine, and took them on a tour, so they could actually see the various facilities, the problems with the facilities, and why they needed to upgrade them. And that was very effective. Unfortunately, cheese and wine and storytelling is not used nearly enough!

How can we use this process in such a quick-paced environment?

I think this process helps enormously with that, for example when you need to grab a senior leader, say, on the way to the lift. It is very easy to have those very fast conversations when you have prepared in advance.

Perhaps there are two parts to this question. One, how do we allow time for the analysis around the thinking and the communication, and two, how do we allow time for the problem solving.

From my experience, building that hypothesis as a storyline speeds up the analysis, as you can identify any gaps there might be in your analytical plan, before the last minute. You also quickly look at what the story might say, and may realise, “Well actually, that changes our priorities in analysis”. It can shift the balance of the work that you do, and speed up the analytical process too.

How do we allow time for problem solving? It is helpful to get people together in a room (a team including some objective outsiders who understand the method) to throw ideas around, use our 10-point test, and ask, “How does the story hang together?”

You will find that the story can come together quite quickly, when you focus on the logical rules that hold them together.

Do you have examples of using the logical rules (context, trigger, question, ideas) for promoting a business to gain clients?

Where I have seen it used to great effect is in tenders. Let’s pick an example.

We worked with a law firm to train their lawyers to get their advice across in 30 seconds—without compromising the integrity of their analysis. They used the same approach to prepare a covering letter to go with a tender, and received the most phenomenal responses, like, “If you could communicate like that with us as lawyers within the legal process then, absolutely, you are hired”. The tender came back with 50 matters, which was quite extraordinary.

When you work in a technical discipline and you can communicate your value proposition very clearly (“You should hire us because . . .”), with a single sentence with support points underneath, you can often surprise your audience with the power of your proposition and be quite distinctive.

Do you do workshops?

Yes, we do. In fact, one of my team members is running a workshop today with one of the banks. The workshop is compulsory for all new hires in the head office, so that is very exciting. We’ve run a lot of workshops; that is the mainstay of our business, as well as coaching.

Free eBook. My extended answers are featured in the eBook 'Turning Technical Experts into Effective Communicators', which you may like to download by clicking on the image below. At the back of the eBook are useful links, including a recording of the webinar I presented in collaboration with Velpic.

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About Davina Stanley. Davina is a Strategic Communication Specialist who helps executives make the complex clear and the clear compelling in their problem solving and communication. She has 20 years' experience coaching and enabling professionals to clarify and communicate complex ideas so they can get their main points across quickly (ideally within 30 seconds).