You have a big idea you want to present. It may be a result, an outcome, or a conclusion. Maybe it’s an insight you need to share or a recommendation you need to make. How can you communicate your big ideas with maximum impact?
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The mistake too many people make is to dive straight into the details. And another common mistake is to tell a story. We did this, figured out that, checked something, and spoke to someone.
Project Management is not an art form. Your clients, sponsors, and stakeholders don’t have time for a recap of everything you did. They want the good stuff. And they want it Now!
You might want a short introduction, but nothing more. If you do, an effective structure for that introduction is:
Once you have stated your Big Idea, you can elaborate by answering the question your audience has in mind. This is likely to be either:
Just as a Work Breakdown Structure has a Key Line, so your elaboration on your Big Idea needs one.
Give your reasons in a short, succinct way.
Keep the number to a maximum of three. Any more, and you will diminish the impact of your argument. We hear reason 8, which is minor, and forget reason 1. So, we intuitively feel all the reasons are this weak!
There is also something special in how humans receive lists of three.
Tell the audience there are three reasons, then spell them out concisely. If you need to give more information, you can go back to the first, describe it as reason 1 and elaborate on it.
Then move to number 2 and repeat.
Again, three steps is ideal. But your priority here is not to persuade but to explain. However, if you want people to remember the steps, you need to keep the number low. If you have to, go up to 5 steps or possibly 7. No more.
George Miller suggests that our short-term memories can hold 7 +/- 2 items and my own tests show this is right. However, the number of people who can manage 8 or 9 is few, so hedge your bets and err on the low side.
I usually use 5 as a maximum if I want people to retain the information in their heads. So, to allow this, if there are more steps, I will cluster them into no more than 5 groups, with 3 or so steps per group.
This gives a Key Line of 5 or fewer items and sub-steps to elaborate.
Always address the ‘why’ question first. Otherwise, people won’t pay attention to the ‘how’, if they can’t understand the reason ‘why’.
This is often the way to head off objections to your big ideas. Anticipate the risks and scenarios people will want to know about, and address them
Always use plain language to communicate your big ideas. If you need to use jargon, explain the idea and then give people the label for it.
Keep your explanations as simple as you can, so that any intelligent person listening to you with little or no background can understand you – unless you are certain about the level of knowledge of your audience.
Carefully curated video recommendations for communicating big ideas:
And some Helpful articles…
I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own.
Note that the links are affiliated.
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Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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