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A Third Grader Reminds Us of the Keys to Clear Communications

In a recent episode of the New York Times Daily podcast, I’m reminded of the importance of clear and concise communications and the courage to ask the introductory questions that everyone wants to know but may be too afraid to ask. 

Leo, a third-grade student from New Jersey, had the unique opportunity to interview the NY Times political reporter asking a series of questions about the impeachment process. His questions included what is a whistle blower, what is a quid pro quo, how many people listen while the President takes a phone call, and why do we provide money to the Ukraine. 

Leo started at the beginning and asked questions to understand the topic. Regardless of your political beliefs, this podcast is a good reminder of the keys to good communications: 

1.     Start with the end in mind. Research suggests people retain items in threes. Think about the three most important things you want your audience to take away (know, feel or do) from your communication. 

2.     Don’t be afraid to ask the obvious questions. If you don’t know the answer, odds are that others won’t as well. Start at the beginning by asking who, what, where, why, when and how. 

3.     Avoid jargon, extra words, and format for “skim-ability.” Today’s audiences, whether employees or customers, are busy and overwhelmed with communications all vying for their attention. To draw your reader in, use the email subject line. Format your message using bold subheads and bullet points that allow the reader to grasp the main points even if they skim read it. And please, avoid the all-to-common acronyms and corporate jargon. No one wants to hear about leveraging synergies, moving the needle or low hanging fruit. 

4.     Know your audience. Throughout my career, I’ve helped communicate very complex topics including guidance and navigation equipment, information technology systems or healthcare benefits. I learned early on to write so that your neighbor, spouse or friend, who knows nothing about the topic, could easily understand it. Keep it simple.

5.     Use visuals. Whenever possible, use visuals to simplify and convey your message. A good infographic, chart or diagram can take the place of paragraphs of texts or numbers.

Sometimes it takes a third grader to remind us to slow down, start at the beginning and have the courage to ask the obvious questions. 

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