Do you ask this one question before communicating?

Popular advice on communication focuses on presenting. Endless tips, tricks, and shortcuts. Help deciding whether to use a template or not. Guidance on how to craft email messages, design slides for maximum impact, and how to stand and deliver a compelling performance.

Sometimes the advice is helpful, but it misses the point. A key to effective communication is delivering a message of value. Focused on the audience, it has a purpose.

Effective communicators know the first step is to ask:

“What happens as a result?”

After listening, reading, watching, or engaging with the communication, what should the audience collectively do? Or what should an individual do?

Starting any communication effort by asking this question makes the difference between common and effective communication. It works for a 5-line email, a presentation, and even training (though it helps to break the training into segments).

Not only should you ask this question of your own work, ask it of others. After listening to a presentation, ask “what should I do?” If the answer isn’t clear, ask the communicator what they intended. Be prepared to guide them, since many people neglect this step.

Better: as a result, what should people think, feel, and do?

One consideration that makes this a bit stronger: asking about what people should think, how you want them to feel, and what they should do.

It’s not about you. It’s about them.

Why this question matters

People invest their time to engage with communication, whether an email, conversation, presentation, or training. Are they gaining value in exchange for their time? Is the value worth more than their time?

And what happens as a result?

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Do you ask this one question before communicating?

Popular advice on communication focuses on presenting. Endless tips, tricks, and shortcuts. Help deciding whether to use a template or not. Guidance on how to craft email messages, design slides for maximum impact, and how to stand and deliver a compelling performance.

Sometimes the advice is helpful, but it misses the point. A key to effective communication is delivering a message of value. Focused on the audience, it has a purpose.

Effective communicators know the first step is to ask:

“What happens as a result?”

After listening, reading, watching, or engaging with the communication, what should the audience collectively do? Or what should an individual do?

Starting any communication effort by asking this question makes the difference between common and effective communication. It works for a 5-line email, a presentation, and even training (though it helps to break the training into segments).

Not only should you ask this question of your own work, ask it of others. After listening to a presentation, ask “what should I do?” If the answer isn’t clear, ask the communicator what they intended. Be prepared to guide them, since many people neglect this step.

Better: as a result, what should people think, feel, and do?

One consideration that makes this a bit stronger: asking about what people should think, how you want them to feel, and what they should do.

It’s not about you. It’s about them.

Why this question matters

People invest their time to engage with communication, whether an email, conversation, presentation, or training. Are they gaining value in exchange for their time? Is the value worth more than their time?

And what happens as a result?

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