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How to Select the Right Communication Vehicle

Painting of Man Holding Laptop Showing PowerPointChoosing the right communication vehicle for making a recommendation has a huge impact on whether your idea gets approved or not. If you’re thoughtful about your choice, the odds of getting to “yes” go up dramatically.

The following is an excerpt from my latest book The Elegant Pitch: Create a Compelling Recommendation, Build Broad Support, and Get it Approved (CLICK HERE to get your copy). The book spells out a straightforward process you can immediately use to get your ideas approved.

The first decision to make when preparing to share your recommendation is which communication format you’ll use. You could choose to write a presentation, draft a memo, send an email, leave a voicemail, or create a business case. Your format choice should be based upon the type of information you’re presenting as well as your audience’s preferred format. If your stakeholder prefers memos, write a memo. If they want a presentation, give them one. If they like emails and you leave a voicemail, your message won’t go over as well as it could.

If you deliberately ignore their communication style preference, make sure you’ve got a good reason for doing so. You might have complex data best displayed in a presentation format. If your stakeholder loves voicemails, you’d be making a mistake by translating your complex data into a format that’s not conducive to conveying that information. Imagine trying to explain a bar graph via voicemail – it doesn’t work!

One principle to remember when drafting your final communication is more is not better, regardless of which communication format you use. Long presentations get painful after five pages when your audience sees they have 35 pages yet to go. People stop reading a memo after three pages. If someone has to scroll to read your entire email, it’s too long. They’ll delete your voicemail if they don’t know what it’s about in the first thirty seconds. In an age of 140 character tweets, text messages, and thirty second videos, your challenge is to keep someone’s interest long enough to get them to approve your pitch.

When you’re not sure whether to include a detailed piece of information or not, err on the side of holding it back. Small details can always be shared in response to audience questions. If they don’t ask about it, the information isn’t important enough to share. Cramming as much detail as you can fit into your communication only serves to distract people away from your message. Stay focused on your story and the analyses or facts required to prove it. Any information beyond that is excessive.

Selecting a Communication Format

There are many ways to make your pitch. Choosing the right vehicle is often a matter of understanding the type of pitch you’re making and the information required to make it. Each format has a reasonably standard set of elements required to make it effective. Here are common formats, guidance on when to use them, and core components of each:

Voicemail

This is one of the simplest communication vehicles. It should be reserved for the simplest of tasks. Use voicemail when the audience has full knowledge of the situation and you’re providing them new information, requesting additional information from them, or asking them to make a quick decision.

A good voicemail starts with a reminder of the issue you’re calling about. Next, cover your call’s purpose – updating, requesting information, or getting a decision – along with a timeline for action if there is one. If while you’re leaving your message your voicemail system’s recorded voice comes on and says you have thirty seconds remaining to finish your message, that’s a big warning indicator that you’re talking too long. You’re using the wrong communication format. You need to switch to a format more conducive to sharing more information.

Email

Use email when the audience has a solid understanding of the issue’s context and when you’re trying to get a quick decision or offer a short update. Email can be an effective communication tool when multiple people need to receive the same information because your email can be forwarded intact without changing the message. It’s not an effective vehicle for sharing complex information or extensive amounts of data.

A good email should contain a greeting, short context on the issue, a recommendation, a request for action, and a timeline. For update emails where no action is required, note that so your audience understands they don’t need to do anything with the information other than absorb it.

Memo

This format is useful when the audience needs deeper context. It’s a good choice when the information you’re sharing requires more detailed explanation and you don’t need to share complex visuals like graphs or images. If your organization has a standard memo format, use it. People are used to seeing information in that structure. If you change the structure, you could confuse them because you’re making them change the way they’ve been conditioned to receive information.

When you don’t have to follow a standard format, the Structured Thought Process makes drafting a memo easy. Take your Story and convert it to memo format. Add detail to your memo as appropriate. This detail can take the form of data tables or simple embedded graphs. At the end of the memo, let your audience know what you want from them in terms of a decision or action required on their part. Remember to be explicit about any timing constraints or due dates for them to take action.

Presentation

This is the most common format for making a pitch. Use it when sharing complex data, concepts, or images. Most people are visual learners – approximately 65% by many accounts. They receive information most effectively in the form of a picture. Graphs, frameworks, diagrams, and images work well in these situations. A presentation enables you to convey large amounts of information in an easy to absorb format.

A good presentation has a title page, an executive summary, the data and charts supporting your recommendation, a list of risks and opportunities, and clear next steps. Many presentations contain an appendix for more detailed supporting analyses that are important but not critical enough to include in the presentation’s main body.

Presentations are common yet they seem to give people the most trouble when making a pitch. Fortunately the Structured Thought Process enables you to navigate these challenges and create a compelling presentation.

One of my favorite aspects of this method is the way it writes your presentation for you as you work your way through the Structured Thought Process. Here’s the logic behind that statement. The Question scopes and defines the Core Idea. The Core Idea drives the Architecture. The Architecture defines the Story. The Architecture and Story determine the analyses. Once the analyses prove your hypotheses, your presentation is done – it’s but a matter of assembly.

The Elegant PitchIf you want to improve your chances for getting your recommendations approved, grab your copy of The Elegant Pitch now (CLICK HERE to get yours). It will provide you clear instructions for how to create a compelling case that your stakeholder can’t refuse. If you’re interested in taking our course on the method, come check out Structured Thought & Communications. We’re happy to come to your organization and teach your team how to make clearer, more compelling recommendations.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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Photo: Portrait with PowerPoint, after Pieter Jansz van Asch by Mike Licht

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