I recently had a conversation with a Senior Manager in Software Development. He manages a team of brilliant software developers who solve complex issues with their programming. But when they brought their findings to business management to request approvals to proceed, they failed to gain it.
When the suggestion of simplified messaging was raised with this team of developers, an actual response was "Why should I have to dumb it down for them?" Unfortunately, this is not the first time I've experienced this in my career. The issue is not with the intelligence of the audience or the speaker. The issue lies in the messaging. It's about connecting two worlds and that can only happen with a bridge of communication.
How Did We Get Here?
While a distinct focus on science and math in school can be traced back to the 1950's, the STEM acrostic was first introduced in 2001 by the National Science Foundation. Then in 2006 Georgette Yakman noticed the improvements of STEM solutions which were developed through a distinct focus on innovation and creativity. As a result, she proposed the Arts be added and STEM became known as STEAM.
The Arts also includes Language Arts, and we love the inclusion of that! Any solution invented by a STEAM student, must eventually be communicated to the world. If it cannot be communicated effectively, those brilliant solutions may be lost forever.
According to The National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences, STEM success is determined by the “ability to communicate convincingly and to shape the opinions and attitudes of other engineers and the public” (Johnston, S., Gostelow, J.P., & W.J. King, 2004, p.55). Communication is what fuels your STEAM engine!
Remember, the students of STEAM eventually graduate and become the business professionals running companies. We all should want our STEAM students to be well-equipped with communication tools for their professional careers. We can help today by sharing one of our foundational message structure tools.
Use A Simple Message Structure
How can you overcome the cognitive gap when you communicate with any audience? As Lee Iacocca says, "You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere." Your success begins with a solid message structure.
One powerful message structure we share with technical professionals is the What, Why, How tool. If you're asking for an approval, I recommend you give them the ask up front! You do this by starting with WHAT you're proposing. This includes both the problem you want to solve and the solution you recommend. If you need to provide some of your research and analysis, include your data interpretation here.
Then, tell them WHY this is so important. Focus on the costs of doing nothing or the expected benefits of implementing the solution (cost savings, revenue increases, risk reduction). People make changes in business to decrease risk and increase reward.
Finally, the audience wants to know how to get it done. HOW will you proceed? This is where you make your plan clear. Tell them the very next step and make it simple. If the next step is to gain their approval to proceed, then ask for it. Stand firm on your data and be bold with your request. If you need money, time, or resources... ask for it. And be prepared because if they have questions, they will ask.
But what if...
But what if your message is so complex that the audience will not understand? What if your audience understands the technology but they don't care to do anything? In addition to a solid message structure, interpretation and understanding of your data can be made easier with metaphors, analogies, comparisons, and translations.
We will explore this in a future blog post to focus on engagement and understanding.
Until next time...
Russ Peterson Jr.
Russ Peterson Jr. is the co-founder and President of iSpeak, Inc. – An award-winning professional development training company. Russ is a speaker, international trainer, and published author on Professional Sales Communication and Business Communication. He delivers workshops, keynotes, and personal communication coaching services to business professionals in the US and around the world. iSpeak helps people build stronger relationships and achieve more through better communication. You can connect with Russ directly through LinkedIn.