Being unstoppable. A few simple tricks to make your communication more effective.

As a Project Manager I send tens of emails every single day, tens of comments on team management tools and internal messaging systems, and I exchange a lot of verbal information with the teammates. From my 8 years of PM experience I know that sometimes as much as 80% of that communication may in fact be ineffective if done wrong or, in other words, may not cause any action.

Communication is only effective when it causes DO. But that doesn’t happen all the time. You often request for an action to be taken or information to be provided and you just wait. It doesn’t mean that people ignore you, disrespect you or forget about your message. Your communication just was not clear enough to cause immediate action, and it’s your job to do it right.

Ensure people understand your statement

When you talk to people, your statement always consists of beginning, content and the end. You start from saying what you need (result), then describe the content (why, when) and at the end, you include the actions that need to be taken and results they will cause.

Try to rearrange this order next time. Start with a title that is different from other emails in the mailbox. Don’t use boring titles that may be lost within hundreds of emails like: “Immediate action”, “Urgent”, “Misc”, “Q3 Review”. Think of a toothpaste. People don’t want to buy toothpaste just to have it. People want to have a bright smile. Try to include a positive result in the title. A result that is achievable if the actions are taken.

Then start the content of your message with DOs, i.e. actions you want your teammates to do. This is the first thing they need to see and it must be extremely clear, especially when your action is dependent on theirs. Research shows that people are willing to perform an action faster when they feel that they “owe” you something.

End with what you usually started your emails / messages before, i.e. “Hey guys, I need to gather all necessary information to send to the client, but first I need you to do something.” Simply describe actions that will be taken after your teammates complete theirs.

Find the time to communicate brilliantly

Good communication consists of three elements: preparation, delivery and follow-up. While you set up a calendar event for a meeting on a daily basis, how many times have you set up a reminder to prepare yourself for the meeting properly? Do it in the morning, when you have a fresh, relaxed mind. Set up a reminder to gather all necessary information for your meeting and don’t do it at the last minute.

Furthermore, set up a reminder immediately after a meeting to create a follow-up email or meeting notes. The sooner the better, and the more information you’ll remember afterwards. In the follow-up email always include actions and delivery times that need to be taken, not the topics covered or discussion results.

I bet your meetings will be much more effective and you’ll look more professional when you’re  prepared correctly and finalize the meeting with proper follow-up notes.

Have better, quicker meetings and conference calls

From time to time I end my day filled with a lot of meetings with a very uncomfortable feeling that it didn’t bring as many results as I would expect. In other words, and let’s be honest, I used many hours of my time not doing a very good job if I’m not satisfied enough with the action items being scheduled or the deliveries planned. I learned a few tricks to fix that though.

The shorter the meeting is, the better the results. Always try to keep in mind that the purpose of majority of your meetings is to agree on something and make a quick decision. Keep it smart, short and focused on key elements that end up in the result.

Be sure to share the agenda, including all conversation key points, with all attendees beforehand. If you like to be prepared to a meeting, others do too! Include explicit information about what you expect from teammates.

Invite only people that can contribute. Don’t waste others’ time or let others disrupt your meeting if they don’t have anything valuable to add.

Please note that this may not always work. Review this approach from time to time, and take a look at what’s doing the job and what’s not. Always be flexible. Don’t always work by the book.

Prepare for meetings in the right way

We already touched on how effective meetings should be run, but let’s focus on a good preparation. Let’s use a technique called PALM – Purpose, Agenda, Limit, Minimum.

First of all, define the Purpose or results of the meeting clearly. Don’t use “Gold Team meeting,” use “Gold Team project Phase 2 kick-off meeting” or “Gold Team – decision on the colors” instead. The title of the meeting should already give a clear hint what’s going to be discussed and – if possible – what the expected outcome is.

Agendas are often too long and too cluttered. Keep it simple, two-three points. It should only include points relevant to the decision you want to make in the meeting. Move the most important decisions to the top of the list. Be sure the agenda is a list of decisions to make not discussions to have.

Limit the maximum amount of time you want to spend on the meeting, and include that information in the agenda. It will force the attendees to focus on key points, and keep the conversation short and effective.

Minimize the number of attendees. The fewer people, the better. Limit attendance to those who are going to help make the decision and finalize the task, not add an additional layer of complication.

Ensure meetings generate actions, not just discussion topics

Always make sure you have a proper action items list shared with everyone immediately after the meeting / call. If you want your teammates to take immediate action, send an email to everyone (use CC, so everyone knows who got that email and everyone is on the same page) with a list of action items and – more importantly – to whom it’s assigned and what the expected due date is. The follow-up note is extremely important to summarize the meeting, remind everyone on the decisions made, and keep everyone on the same page. It also makes clear who should deliver what and when it’s expected. Sharing it with everyone makes people publicly responsible for delivery making it more probable that it happens on time.

From my perspective, the communication is the key to successful management. There’s a lot of tricks you may use – there are tens if not hundreds to choose from. Not every single one is going to work for you, that’s for sure. You need to do just what I did – build your own set that’s getting things done and is easy for you to use. Change this set slightly from time to time, check what’s working better and optimize it. A good communication in project management is always a strange mix of politics, psychology, social engineering, negotiations. Sometimes I have a feeling that mastering psychiatry, carpentry, pottery and archery could also be somehow useful.

Blog post based on a book called “The Snowball effect – Communication techniques to make you unstoppable” by Andy Bounds.