Succinct communication requires Structure and Thought

If you want to get your point across, you need to get to that point. I observe leaders time and time again rambling on in meetings, losing, not only themselves in detail, but also their audience. Confidence gets you far when you show up in front of people but your content has to be succinct and clear if your goal is to get buy-in or your audience to buy something.

I was working with a client in the finance industry in China last year. The Leader I was coaching asked me to work with his team of advisors as he struggled with the way they presented financial updates and client presentations. Most of the presentations were too detailed without any context, too long with no outcome. Many advisors whose natural behaviour style was in line with ‘Conscientiousness’ in DiSC, e.g. accuracy and eye for detail simply use their updates and financial reports without creating a succinct structure. They often lost their audience and almost all meetings ran over. We ran a few workshops where I taught the entire team to use a simple structure. The advisors managed to change their long, detailed and often confusing update presentations to on point, succinct pieces of communication. Here is what I taught:

Succinct communication starts with thinking about what you are planning to communicate, to whom and what your desired outcome is. Succinct means ‘clear and briefly expressed’. The easiest way to achieve that is using a simple structure. I use a variety of tools in my workshops and coaching but the one that is universal for most pieces of communication (updates, pitch, presentation is the ‘3 What’s’:

WHAT? What is the context? – be brief to the point

SO WHAT? Why am I crafting this message and who for? – 3 arguments

NOW WHAT? What is the solution? – Call-to-action

Your ‘What?’ and ‘Now What?’ needs to be brief, to the point and direct. People need context and grasp quickly what you want to talk about. The ‘So What?’ fleshes out your arguments, your why, pros and cons and commercial proposition if necessary. Try to present 3 ideas, solutions or arguments. People like everything in 3’s.

Once you have created your piece of communication start editing and ‘cut the fat’. You want to avoid long sentences. In fact, where ever you see an ‘and’ replace it by a full stop and start a new sentence. Take out content that doesn’t support your idea or where you think you digress.

Be careful to not use jargon, e.g. industry specific words, technical terms and abbreviations. If you are unsure, get your friend or partner to read it and ask them if they understand all terms.

Presentation Aids
If you use an aid for your presentation, especially using PowerPoint slides, build your slides after your piece of communication is finished. Your ppt serves your audience as reference. It is not a crutch for you while you present so you don’t forget your content. Rule of thumb for PowerPoint slides: 1 image, 1 word. If bullet points use as few as possible (max. 5) and animate them. Try and use whiteboards and flipcharts instead, draw and write while you present. It adds an interactive edge and engages your audience.

Practice, practice, practice! Practice your presentation as often as necessary. You can video yourself and watch it back. Practice in front of the mirror or to your friends or partner. The more you practice the higher the chances you stay succinct without starting to ramble. Practice = Confidence.

Carolyn O’Hara published this HBR article “How to Improve Your Business Writing’ with helpful tips and case studies:

If you want to work with me to improve your communication and presentations, contact me on