Remember the time in that meeting when you kept explaining and explaining and EXPLAINING, and they still didn’t get it? I’d say the problem wasn’t that you didn’t do enough explaining. The problem is words.
Words can be crafted and combined into sublime creations that would make the snootiest French chef proud, but most of us are in Hamburger Helper territory when it comes to how well we use them. Maybe we all had terrible teachers, or the person sitting next to us in English class was really cute and we didn’t pay attention. Either way, I think it’s time for a new course of action.
Try the Before And After
The situation I see most often is a person with an idea they’re trying to rally their team around. They have a solution, and they think it’s the way to go. If you’ve ever struggled in this moment, next time try drawing it on the whiteboard in terms of before and after.
In his new book Draw to Win, speaker and author Dan Roam points to Before & After as the oldest ploy in advertising—because it works. People understand it intuitively, which gets past your first challenge. Even better, going about it this way has some extra benefits.
- Starting with the situation or problem forces you to clarify what exactly the issue is in your own mind, and making that explicit forces a discussion amongst the team to get agreement on that reality.
- Placing the problem and solution next to each other allows you and your team to analyze the two more easily in terms of how well the solution truly addresses the core problem. Maybe your idea is good, but it’s a little off the mark.
- Limiting the discussion to using simple pictures you can recreate on a whiteboard forces you to reduce your idea down to its essence, skipping the mumbo-jumbo of too many words.
Dan has a short Slideshare presentation which includes some useful examples, and I also like to reference one from the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. The authors tell a story of how they boiled down one particular mission plan into just two maps of Fallujah: area controlled by friendly forces today, and the area they planned to control when the mission was over.
They used transparencies over detailed maps, which greatly enriched the conversation and value of the overall planning session. This was a notable contrast from the military practice of “death by PowerPoint” you may recall reported in the news media.
Next time you need to explain a big idea, take an extra few minutes and try drawing it as a before and after. It worked with lives on the line in Iraq, so it’s safe for the conference room.