When you think of corporate leaders, you often think that they must be good communicators to hold their current positions, or have the "skills to pay the bills" as the Beastie Boys would say.

However, more often than not leaders lack even the most basic communications skills, especially if they do not come from a communications background. This is not to say that they are bad or in-effective leaders, it simply means that they were never challenged or called to task about how they communicate.

This in my mind is the role of a good communications specialist, especially when it comes to challenging the status quo.

As a communications lead I am routinely asked to provide basic training when it comes to how to write an effective: email, briefing note, memo, presentation etc. Typically I am asked to provide this training to colleagues and internal stakeholders first. This is the wrong strategy however insofar as leaders should be the first ones to receive the training - as they are the people who send the memos, and deliver the presentations.

Copied below is a sample guideline I have developed for leaders to review before they prepare any type of communications. I hope you find it helpful.

Communications Development Checklist

  1. Identify the purpose: Why are you sending this message? What is the reason? What are you trying to achieve?

  2. Identify and understand your audience: Who are you sending this message to, and will they understand it? Adapt your message to your primary and secondary audience. What type of wording will they understand? Put your-self in their shoes, how would they want to hear the information? (Audience types: Stakeholders, Supporters, and Spectators)

  3. Will your message use a direct or indirect strategy? Direct = providing the main information first, used to inform and to provide good news, or news that people are likely to accept. Indirect = providing a buffer to explain and persuade before providing the key messages. Used when delivering bad news or when you need justification/clarification/persuasion.

  4. Identify the need to use a rational appeal, an emotional appeal, or dual appeal: Will your message be stronger with just the facts or with emotion?

  5. Consider the alternate side of your message: If anyone was to oppose your message, what can you say to repel, follow-up, or answer negative questions?

  6. Identify the right medium: Email? Letter? Memo? Poster? What is the right format for your message? This will be according to the type of message you want to send/convey, how confidential it is, how many people should have access to it, etc.

  7. Do you expect feedback? If needed, provide all proper contact methods in your message.

  8. Is your message concise and clear? Fewer words equal a higher comprehension rate. Shoot for 15-20 words per average sentence. KISS = Keep it short and simple. Avoid restating the same message multiple times when once will suffice. (Brevity is Brilliance)

  9. Evaluate your message: Will your audience receive your message in the way it was intended? How can you ensure this? Will they act on your message? Is there any way for you to motivate action?

  10. Proofread and revise your message for errors and content.

  11. Strategize and plan beforehand: A good content / presentation strategy significantly enhances your potential for success.

Presentation Guide:

  • Number 1

    Slides should provide clear and concise key messages.

  • Number 2

    Don’t try and reinvent the wheel, always utilize existing/approved key messages and branding slogans. (This also serves to reinforce your brand)

  • Number 3

    Slides should use images and graphics to enhance key messages.

  • Number 4

    Consider distributing a hand-out with additional information, to significantly reduce the size of your presentation.

  • Number 5

    Consider distributing a hand-out with additional information, to significantly reduce the size of your presentation.

  • Number 6

    The presenter should add value to the slides by speaking of examples, or adding details to the statements on the slide. Avoid reading the slides, your personality is your best asset – use it!

  • Number 7

    Slides may include “talking points” for further distribution of key messages/calls to action. Don’t try to put all the details on the slide. You know the information, simply speak to it!

  • Number 8

    When giving presentations to senior stakeholders, the shorter the better: 10 to 15 slides at most.

  • Number 9

    Practice, Practice, Practice! Do a mock presentation before the real one, and have your peers provide feedback. This will also help you to gauge your timing.

  • Number 10

    Strategize – What is the best way to present, multiple presenters, or just one? Guest speakers or props/animation/videos etc.

  • Number 11

    Be mindful of the time you have to present. What can you reasonably achieve in 15/30/45 minutes?

  • Number 12

    Be aware of how you present, your body language, eye contact, and facial expressions play a key role in the success of your presentation. (An audience can tell if you are not happy, frustrated, or disengaged.)

  • Number 13

    Be aware of how you present, your body language, eye contact, and facial expressions play a key role in the success of your presentation. (An audience can tell if you are not happy, frustrated, or disengaged.)

  • Number 14

    Do voice exercises two hours before the presentation, and avoid coffee or drinking large amounts of water.

  • Number 15

    Be generous with white space to emphasize information.

  • Number 16

    IMP: Always review the checklist above, the same guidelines still apply.

Four steps to capture an audience:

- Gain Attention: Stating things that are of interest to your audience.

- Build Interest: Stating your message and the reasons for it.

- Reduce Resistance: Showcasing that the other side was considered, and why your message is better.

- Motivate Action/Promote Goodwill: Get them to act, or be on board with your message.

Things to think about:

Be mindful of flow, audiences view information in a linear fashion. Paragraphs/presentations need to tie into each other.

Be consistent throughout your communication: If you are speaking in first, second, or third person - make sure you maintain your style throughout the communication.