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Effective communicators rely on structure.
You may be the smartest person in the room, but if you can’t communicate what you know, you’re not of much value to others. The million-dollar ideas inside your head are worthless if you’re unable to express them to potential partners and investors.
Communication is key; effective communication is king. And the secret to effective communication is structure. Research has shown that people will retain structured information up to 40-percent more accurately than information that is presented without structure.
Having a clear structure for communicating helps you in two ways: it allows you to organize and remember your ideas, and it makes it easier for your listener to follow and stay focused.
Here are three structures to help you communicate more effectively:
1. Issue—Illustration—Invitation (The 3-Is)
First, outline your issue or explain your idea in simple terms. Then, use an illustration to expound on your main point. Your illustrations can be funny or inspirational stories, jokes, metaphors, or analogies. Finally, give an “Invitation;” a way in which your listener is able to respond. Your goal is to throw the ball into your listener’s court. It can be as simple as “What do you think?”
The human brain loves stories and illustrations. Harvard research shows that when a speaker uses stories and illustrations in their talk, the audience is able to recall the content they hear up to weeks later.
A great example is the story of the “Good Samaritan.” Jesus is teaching on the issue of loving others; he uses the story of the “Good Samaritan” to highlight the main point that we are to show kindness and love to strangers, not only those we are close with.
Build yourself a “catalog” of illustrations and have them memorized. Rotate through them and use them at different times.
The 3-Is structure is best used for conversational settings, dialogues, discussions, soliciting or giving advice, creating rapport, and inviting someone to share your point-of-view.
2. What?—So What?—Now What? (The 3-Ws)
This is a structure taught by Stanford’s School of Business. It is a more speaker-focused and instructional approach.
First, define your key idea or argument concisely. You should be able to boil it down to one sentence, or two at most.
Next, the “So what?” forces you to answer the question of why the issue should matter to your audience. Why is it important that they should listen to you? Explain how your listeners will be affected if they don’t respond to the issue. Make use of research or evidence.
Finally, the “Now what?” is where you give your listener a concrete way to move forward to the next immediate step. Give instructions, speak didactically.
The 3-Ws structure is best used for teaching settings, instructional contexts, debates, clarifying views, and persuasive talks.
3. Problem—Solution—Benefit (PSB)
Unlike “The 3-Ws,” this structure relies less on persuasion and is more straightforward. Your main goal is not arguing or presenting evidence to prove your point. The problem is matter-of-fact and clear enough that it goes unquestioned. Your emphasis is to be on the “Solution.”
First, begin with presenting the problem—a clear point of frustration.
Next, present your well-thought-out solution to the problem. If you’re in a formal setting like pitching to an investor, your solution needs to be detailed and thorough. No pie-in-the-sky. You should be confident and able to respond to any questions and critique.
Finally, the “Benefit” is typically indirect and should not require much emphasis. Your audiences’ response should come naturally as a result of you presenting the “Solution” well enough. Your audience or listener should be thinking, “Wow.” Their response and perceived benefit will be equal to the quality of your solution.
The PSB structure is best for formal settings, presenting opportunities, demos, business meetings, elevator pitches, and academic talks.