Why you need to write tight for corporate audiences

by Jack Willard

Please welcome business consultant Jack Willard from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who shows us how to get complex messages over to corporate audiences – in two minutes. (And Jack hastens to add that by ‘write tight’ he does not mean ‘drunk!’)

How do you prepare a two minute presentation about a two-year corporate problem?

Realize first that there may be a primary audience but there is no such thing as a stand-alone audience.

The primary audience might be the executive suite but there are assistants, subordinates, end-users, competitors, attorneys, marketers, consultants and more, all of whom could have an interest in your output.

First, learn the background

For example, assume that you are putting together a presentation about a plan to reduce a company’s inventory of unsold transferee homes. The primary audience consists of the heads of Human Resources, Finance, and Operations of the company’s various divisions, plus the external relocation management consultant.

The issue at hand is a “down” real estate market, causing growth in “carrying” charges which the company must pay on each property until it is sold. The company wants to stop the bleeding and the consultant has come up with numerous incentives (a new carpet on every floor, a new car in every garage, etc., plus price cuts) to make these houses more attractive to potential buyers of the transferred executives’ up-scale properties.

Then learn the key surrounding issues

Your research shows that all of these tactics have been tried before, with varying degrees of success and, surprise, the market knows that transferee properties make great comparisons (“…look at this house down the street, just as nice, for $50,000 less,”) – because companies do not call real estate agents daily to find out why their homes have not been sold.

In the process, you compile a great deal of information but your primary audience wants the two-minute version.

Pouring a quart into a pint pot

How do you prepare a two minute presentation for a two-year problem? You write.

You might find that an outline is of value here or you might prefer to write in stream-of-consciousness format; the point is that you get it all on paper and pare down from there.

You might end up with ten pages of material:
  • Enough to advise field operatives of what to do (in this case, monitor real estate agents’ activities);
  • Five pages of material for managers to use (along with operatives’ material) to implement the solution;
  • And two pages of executive summary describing the problem (properties are not selling because of market stresses) and the resulting cost ($X per year);
    • The options un-covered (including consultants’ recommendations) and the resulting cost;
    • And the recommendation(s), also including costs.
    • Within that executive summary, include references to managers’ and operatives materials, in the form of cross-references to the applicable pages.
From there, build your slides  

For your presentation, begin with the assumption that you will be interrupted early on – as early as your second sentence, with a question:  “What is the cost?”

You will have the total cost and perhaps one or two line items in the executive summary but the “numbers behind the numbers” will be captured in the managers’ and operatives’ documents.

Of course, you will have captured all of these numbers on “back-up” slides, so that when the question pops up as you explain the E-1 (executive) slide, you can flip to the M-3 (manager) slide or to O-2 (operative) slide as necessary.

Remember the other members of your target audience – Human Resources, Finance, Operations, the external consultant, etc.  They also will have questions that require manager-level or operative-level responses and you will be prepared for those as well.

You might be pleasantly surprised to have no interruptions at all during your presentation (about a one-in-a-million shot, but it happens). That does not mean that you have blown your primary audience away and made instant experts of them; they might be too hurried to want to spend the time on your output.

Whether they grill you or tune out, you can bet that your output will be taken back to their subordinates for further review and, when they call asking questions, you already will have the answers in your back pocket – because you already have written down all of your findings.

They’ll appreciate it.

© John G. Willard 2020 – all rights reserved

Jack Willard is an independent consultant addressing management, marketing, benefits and communications issues. Broad client base includes third-party administrators, health insurers, manufacturers and systems organizations. He is listed in recent/current editions of Who’s Who in Finance and Industry, Who’s Who in the East, Who’s Who of Emerging Leaders in America, Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World. Most recent: Lifetime Achievement Award Who’s Who in America. 

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