Communication Skills: The Essence of Communication Part 3 - The Preparation Process

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


By Carolyn Crawford

The physical preparation is the stage of the process that is generally given most emphasis in communications training and for good reason. It’s the piece that helps us to think clearly, consider all angles, articulate our thoughts, and achieve focus and direction. It’s when the ‘aha’ moments happen for most participants, and the shift from “I don’t like this stuff and will avoid it at any costs” to “I can do this and can even imagine enjoying it”. Good training will demystify the process and break it down into manageable chunks, making it easy, accessible and practical for daily use.

Whether influencing, selling, negotiating, presenting or writing, below are some steps to consider. Because it’s an area that’s extremely thoroughly covered in literature and training and because there’s simply so much that could be covered here, I’ve summarised, rather than fully fleshed out, many of the ideas. Similarly, because we’ve written other blogs devoted to specific aspects of the preparation process, this article will by necessity overlap with them. It takes however a more helicopter view of the common elements relevant for all communication scenarios.


Use your network to learn as much as you can about the person or people with whom you’re meeting. All things being equal, he or she who understands best, usually wins. We have an entire blog devoted to this topic here:

In short, learn what you can about the individual, the organisation or department, its culture, focus, vision, goals, personality and how they’re tracking. How are they feeling? What are their current concerns, doubts or fears? What excites and inspires them?

Learn what you can online. Approach people who have worked inside the organisation or department or perhaps worked as suppliers to them. Think broadly. Draw a mindmap. You’re bound to know someone who knows someone who knows something about them and the current circumstances and frame of mind. Shout your mutual contact a coffee. Is there a way to collaborate with this person? Will they give up their time willingly or do you have to consider an influencing plan to approach that person before you can even consider going the next step of approaching your ultimate influencee? If you are competing for business, budget or resources in any way, this information could be the make or break.


A question has more influencing power than a statement. It draws out the other person – their preferences, priorities and personality style. It helps you understand their context and needs. And most importantly it allows you to empathically listen and build rapport. The tools below are designed to trigger questions that will gather broader and deeper information than would come from a simple brainstorm.

  • As we mention in our audience research blog, one way to spark questions is to utilise the Starbursting tool: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCT_91.htm to help you come up with several questions starting with the following 6 prefixes: who, what, where, when, why and how. Challenge yourself to come up with 6 questions for each prefix!
  • Another useful tool that can be applied here is a variation on ‘Reframing’ whereby you think about the questions to do with different parts of the business such as: Finance; Manufacturing; Distribution; Sales; Marketing; and Administration.
  • Or you could consider questions to do with different stages of the process such as Research; Development; Testing and Quality Assurance; Going to Market; Measuring and Monitoring; and Continual Improvement.

Try to include both fact-finding and feeling-finding questions so you can learn about the situation but also about the potential reactions of the individual or team. You can even create a flowchart to dig deeper such as “if yes, then I’ll ask this further question. If no, then a different one”. Consider their objections or any possible causes of conflict, and what question you could ask them in response to their concern. Answering with a question can often help you to deepen your understanding of the cause of that concern and address it more meaningfully.


Our ‘Simply Presenting’ workshop & CD offer a clear and simple process for preparing your advocacy - how to structure a robust argument and put forward a solid and engaging business case no matter whether you have 5 minutes as a participant in a group meeting, whether improvising an answer to your MD in the lift, or creating a speech for an industry conference. I won’t try to repeat those ideas here. 3 suggestions therefore to putting forward a persuasive advocacy.

    • Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Influence
      Cialdini worked with many different sales organisations to understand how they developed their powers of influence and persuasion. His conclusion is that there are 6 laws or principles of influence:
      1. The Principle of Reciprocity – give them something or do them a favour and they are more likely to want to do something for you in return.
      2. The Principle of Commitment and Consistency – having made a choice we will convince ourselves it was a good decision and follow through with further consistent purchases or behaviour.
      3. The Principle of Social Proof – We are influenced by others’ choices and preferences.
      4. The Principle of Liking – we prefer to say yes to requests from someone we know and like.
      5. The Principle of Authority – similar to the above, we are influenced by the feedback and suggestions of those we consider to be authorities in the business or on the subject.
      6. The Principle of Scarcity – If it is rare, we perceive it as more valuable.

    • 6 Benefits
      I found one of the neatest summaries of the benefits people respond to in Nick Souter’s book “Dynamic Writing”. In his words “the world of business has its own version of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Corporate life instils six basic needs in most of us. They are:
      1. The need to feel safe and secure
      2. The need to look good
      3. The need to feel good
      4. The need to make money
      5. The need to save money
      6. The need to save time.”

    • 6 Types of Evidence
      There are several stock approaches to validating your claims and benefits including:
    1. Case studies
    2. Testimonials
    3. Expert quotes
    4. Facts and statistics
    5. Visual images
    6. Demonstration


The ‘Power of 6’ means using your 6-degrees network to learn about the person or people you’ll be talking with or writing to; using 6 types of questions to help generate a comprehensive question-list; and when you plan your advocacy, consider the 6 principles of influence, benefits and evidence styles to frame and back your argument. And that, in short, should give you a solid structure for thoroughly and effectively preparing almost any piece of communication.

  • Want to get this learning across to your team?  Why not hire f2f to deliver it?  Contact us to get a quote today.
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