The “3 Things” Rule to Successful Communication

August 29, 2016 — by Michael Lamb    

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn

The language of adtech is rife with acronyms and highly technical terminology that seem to change almost daily. If you’re in the trenches with me, watch the reaction next time you explain to someone outside the industry what you do. Their eyes will get a far-off look that betrays they’re pondering what’s for lunch and not the inner workings of a demand-side platform.

We talk in my industry about how there’s still a need for the humans behind the machines, to understand emotion and the nuance of client needs. That personal touch is also necessary in how we communicate—to clients, partners and colleagues up and down the org chart. Speaking in jargon, in ways that only our inner business confidantes understand, strips away the genuine essence of our message.

So how do you move away from a stiff, technical communication style and towards an approach that will better resonate with an audience? There’s a technique I began employing years ago, and I think it can work regardless of your industry or audience. I believe there are always three things to communicate when you’re presenting ideas, whether it’s to a board meeting or a room full of first-graders. In the 10 years I was at McKinsey before I came to MediaMath, the three things technique evolved into the set of structures and habitual ways to share ideas with people that I return to time and time again. It is helpful in formulating my message and conveying it over time.

Why three things? Two allows you to share a contrast, but three allows you to resolve it. When I’m presented with a nuanced question, even before I know what my POV is, I am confident that I can express it in three parts: general thought, qualification and resolution. And for each, there are tactics for getting your point across eloquently:

1.) General thought:

  • Do rehearse your open. The hardest part is getting started. Know how you’re going to start at the very least. What are you going to say and how are you going to say it? Rehearse that, and then trust the structure to carry you through the rest.
  • Do have enthusiasm. If you are nervous and feeling too constrained in your exposition, that’s when it comes out stilted—too technical and too dry. One tactic is to express and develop your enthusiasm by using analogies.

2.) Qualification:

  • Don’t worry about the third thing. Don’t be afraid to improvise or ad lib. If you have figured out the majors in advance, you will naturally come to the third point you want to make.
  • Don’t fill the air. Don’t over-talk what you’re trying to convey. Silence is a powerful tool. The worst thing you can do is undermine that silence by filling it with “ums.” People use those words to buy themselves time to think about what to say next—while the audience would just as happily use that time to process what has been said and prepare for what’s coming next.
  • Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t try to give someone else’s speech in someone else’s style. There are lots of different ways to be effective, memorable and motivating. Be thoughtful and confident in your personal source of credibility, which includes your own experience both in life and work. 

3.) Resolution:

  • Close the deal. Once you’re done telling them, tell them WHAT you’ve told them. Close with a summary and repetition of the overall message.

Speaking of which, here’s mine: The three things technique can help you break down a talk in a way that’s both easier for you to communicate and for your audience to grasp. By having an exposition, a complication and a resolution, it will sound like you’re telling a narrative instead of talking at a crowd. And who doesn’t love a good story?

Michael Lamb

Michael Lamb is responsible for corporate strategy and development, the commercialization of the company’s offerings, and for the success of its business partnerships. Michael works closely with the sales, product and operations teams to solidify MediaMath’s position as a leader in the industry while identifying and executing upon growth opportunities. Michael brings nearly 15 years of experience in digital marketing and media, most recently as a partner at McKinsey & Company where his clientele included many of the world’s most prominent content owners, publishers, distributors, and advertisers. Michael is a frequent author and speaker on analytic marketing and digital business models for media companies. Earlier in his career, Michael was a co-founder of Poindexter Systems (now [X+1]) alongside Zawadzki. Michael holds an M.A. in Mathematics, with distinction, from the University of Oxford and a B.A. in Applied Mathematics, cum laude, from Harvard University. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three kids and is sure to be the worst poker player on MediaMath’s Executive Team.