If you don't set goals for your communications, you'll never know how effective you are. You won't be able to improve because you won't know how you're doing. How can you measure communication effectiveness?
At XPLANE we set "understanding goals" for any important document, presentation or interaction. There's a simple, easy way to do it, and it's one of the most powerful tools I have ever found in my quest for clarity: frame it as a question. Determine the question that your communication will answer for your audience.
There are three reasons for this:
1. To clarify why people should care.
If you don't offer anything new, why should anyone listen? Effective communication should result in someone acting or thinking in a different way than they did before.
Ask yourself: "What question do I want to answer for my audience?" Framing your goal as a question will help you define exactly what's new, and why people will care. If you can't define a question, maybe nobody's asking it -- and if nobody's asking the question, it's probably because nobody cares.
2. To be sure your content is complete.
Defining your goal as a question offers a second benefit: It's a check to ensure that your communication is on target. At any point in the design or delivery of your communication, you can ask yourself "Am I answering the question?" When it's time to edit, you can test the relative importance of any element by gauging the degree to which it contributes to answering the question.
If it's not contributing you can safely cut it completely. You'll be surprised how much information you deem extraneous or irrelevant when you start to use this approach.
3. To ensure you are understood.
You can also use questions as a metric, to test your communication's effectiveness. Ask someone to review your document, or practice your speech on them. Then ask them the question you intended to answer and see what they say. You can see how effective you have been by seeing how close they come.
This is also quite useful for management conversations. Before you have the conversation, define the question you want the other person to be able to answer. At the end of the conversation, ask the question.
You might be surprised at the answers you get. I have often been about to leave a conversation when I asked my question -- just as a check -- only to find that the other person was about to walk away with a completely different understanding than I had expected. You can save yourself a lot of wasted energy (and sometimes misery!) by double-checking that your communications are understood before moving on.
And you can't double-check unless you have a metric. Use questions.
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