A man shouting into darkness

Communicating well: 6 tips for not shouting into the abyss with Giles Turnball

By Kathryn Dingle 26 November 2021

Struggling to get key individuals to pay attention to your work? Feel like you are just shouting into the abyss?

We have ALL been there (trust me!)

This week Giles Turnball (author of the Agile comms handbook) shared his top tips on Agile communications as part of a Digishift webinar.

Below are the tips and ideas from across the collective.

  1. Look for things in your work that other people need to know
  2. Experiment with bad first drafts
  3. Collect things to show and show not tell
  4. Think about user needs for your presentations or communications
  5. Open working doesn’t mean you have to open up about everything
  6. Think about your tone: You can be official but still fun

But how do you do this well?

Here are some practical tips, frameworks and ideas for making these a reality.

1. Look for things in your work that other people need to know

People are busy and if you share the details of your work first, people tend not to listen. How can we add the plug or context on top of the detail to bring people into it. Structure your content by:

  1. Focus on the lure and the hook for why someone would read your work
  2. Then the context. The context is giving the reader just enough information for people to know the basics. It provides a route into the detail (400 words or a 2 minute video)
  3. Then focus on the detail – on another link or space with the details.

2. Experiment with bad first drafts

Bad first drafts make for good final outputs. Get things down and iterate on them. Example: the lord of the rings didn’t have a magical ring in the first version, but when reviewing the first draft, Tolkien realised the plot didn’t make sense and the journey didn’t have a purpose. Now it is a household name, that many of you will have read or seen the film.

How do you encourage bad first drafts?

Get away from your desk or computer and get some ideas down
Set yourself a time limit
make it obvious that it is a bad draft through the format. Stick to key messages, bullet points or post-its or physically cutting up the paper into the messages. This forces people to realise it is not polished or anything like the end product.
We don’t care about grammar or spelling mistakes.

Get feedback on your work: ideas from attendees

  • Run your bad first draft past your team or partnership as soon as possible
  • Focus the feedback on overall comments, rather than the specifics. This can be encouraged by:
    • getting verbal feedback on documents, rather than comments within a document. share the document but book in the feedback on a call or a meeting to discuss the overall thoughts and get it done on the call.
    • getting 3 points of feedback only.
    • having ‘bad draft’ sessions to be explicit about it. You could have a set amount of time to get ideas down on paper (e.g. 1 hour) and then the session is about building on this, 3 points of feedback. People could do their own drafts or one bring ideas and build from it.
    • read more about Brene Brown’s SFDs (s***** first drafts) for working through conflict or challenge.

Make sure the session is safe

One attendee highlighted the need for psychological safety. First bad drafts needs psychological safety – if people feel safe and supported to make mistakes and learn it becomes gradually possible. If there’s a punitive attitude to mistakes then it can have a detrimental impact on the individual, your relationship and your ongoing work.

Radical Candor is a good method for sharing feedback and asking each person what feedback they want and what format would be best for them, can help create a supportive environment.

3. Collect things to show and show not tell

Gather your stuff and share it across the team so you have the assets when you need it. Make it a habit to take screenshots, photos, note down ideas etc as you go. Then you can show not tell. Show your prototype, your first draft, your sketches.

4. Think about user needs for your presentations or communications

This might mean having different email versions or having multiple types of a presentation. Do they need to read it (more information as a standalone document) or be inspiring (you are speaking to an audience, so the slide can have less text because you are walking the audience through the slides). Resource: doingpresentations

5. Open working doesn’t mean you have to open up about everything

Working in the open gives your org a competitive advantage. It positions you as agile, willing to listen and it encourages collaboration. However, you don’t have to share everything. You need a clear purpose for sharing content and you can cherry pick that content before sharing it.

Some are scared to work in the open because of a fear of being seen as stupid or not knowing the answer. Some may argue that if you are genuinely interested in doing the best job and collaborating with others working in this space, then being critiqued is your goal and it isn’t as scary. Easier said than done but a good mindset shift to explore.

6. Think about your tone: You can be official but still fun

You can be official but you don’t want to be officious. Decide what you want people to do and adapt your tone and content accordingly. People remember stories over lots of information and ideas. For example: the financial times and the economist are official news outlets, but their content has lots of jokes and puns and they aren’t afraid to make jokes about official leaders or official topics. There is plenty of content within their publications that will make you chuckle.