The Anatomy Of A Point
Now more than ever before, knowing how to make a point — a concise, coherent, well-supported point — is urgent.
It’s one thing to sit in a conference room, on an average workday, and abide as a colleague meanders their way to a point. It’s entirely different, after hours of conference calls and web-based meetings, the distractions of home and the associated stresses of dealing with a pandemic threat, to tolerate the same meandering. We just don’t have the patience, let alone the attention span.
Let’s please all agree that, among the good outcomes from this work-at-home time we’ve had, learning to make a concise, coherent point should be one of them.
Let’s get started and break down the anatomy of a point. I wouldn’t dare suggest this will be life-changing (there are already too many life-changing things going on!), but it could be career-changing, and I hope it contributes to the efficiency and effectiveness of everyday business communications going forward.
First, two assumptions:
1. Listening in a meeting is a passive role. The active role belongs to the speaker. Because no one in a real-life or virtual meeting wants to work hard to figure out what you’re trying to say, you need to do the work. In other words, you need to figure out what you want to say before you open your mouth. Your colleagues will not do the heavy lifting and sift through your various word salads to derive — or divine — your point. You have to make it deliberately clear for them to understand and follow.
2. Order matters. You know the saying “Life is short; eat dessert first,” right? Let’s take that into the meeting realm and adapt it to “Attention spans are short; serve the conclusion first!” Conclusion, summary, capture statement. Call it what you want, but something of significance or importance needs to be stated first — before you spew all the weedy stuff — in order to set context and to grab and hold attention.
Next, the three-part anatomy:
The anatomy of a point — please excuse the mixed metaphor — is a sandwich, with the conclusion (dessert) as the two slices of bread, as outlined below. When making a point, open with the conclusion. Then backfill with the evidence or detailed information that supports the point, and reinforce with the conclusion again. So, the way you would present your point is broken down as follows:
1. Conclusion. This is a short statement. If you’re being persuasive, it is a sentence that conveys value or benefit. If you’re being informative, your sentence captures or summarizes the importance of the information you’re about to share.
2. Evidence. These are the weeds — the detail, background information, data, statistics, descriptions. This is the information that supports the conclusion you’re asserting. If you were to lead with it, you would lose your audience by the time you got to the conclusion. Evidence is the middle of the sandwich — the meat and cheese, or the peanut butter and jelly.
3. Conclusion. On the theory that your point should be memorable/repeatable, the conclusion is the sound bite that others are most likely to retain, so you want to repeat it for good measure (repetition increases memorability). Your conclusion statement, therefore, is the bookends of your point, setting context upfront for the detail to come and wrapping up on the back end for the detail just shared.
Let’s apply this to a persuasive situation, as an example. Let’s say you are an SVP in the IT department at a large bank, and there was a software glitch that prevented statements from being mailed to customers who still prefer paper. You need to ask senior management for additional budget money to fix the glitch.
In this situation, a persuasive point might sound like this:
C: Customer trust is our greatest asset.
E: It’s been three months since the missed statement, and affected customers are still wondering when they’ll receive their printed statements.
E: We have been sending them regular updates, asking for their patience.
E: In the meantime, IT discovered a glitch in the software that can be fixed with an upgrade.
E: The upgrade will address the statement issue as well as help us with a few other customer communication functions.
E: The budget request is significant, but it’s a wise investment in the long run.
C: Customer trust is our greatest asset.
If you were being informative, reporting on the status of the situation (versus making an ask), your conclusion statement might sound like this: We have made significant progress on customer communication. Followed by the detail and a recap of the conclusion.
None of us knows yet how our work-at-home time during COVID-19 might impact or change workplace practices, and even policies, going forward. Normalcy, as we knew it, may or may not return. Regardless of how and where we work from now on, we still will need to communicate with one another. Why not take this time at home to sharpen your ability to make a point? Your colleagues online or in the room will not only appreciate it, but I bet they will begin to rely on you as a voice of clarity and sound reasoning.
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