I know you think there are things you have to tell your reader so they’ll understand the findings, or the recommendations, or the actions, or whatever, but the simple fact is, they’ll skim/skip/ignore anything until their questions are answered.
GIVE them the answers to their questions first, and then TRUST that they’ll read the rest of the document so they can understand the justification for those answers.
Also, see point 3.
3. They WON’T read that email/report/proposal like a novel, from beginning to end – they’ll jump around.
Make the document easy to navigate at a glance.
You want to renovate your kitchen. You get 3 quotes/proposals. Do you read ANY of the words/pages/sales pitch before you find the quoted price?
Ah – NO.
You skip everything until you find the price.
If you think you have to write a document in a certain order so the reader will read it in a certain order, you’re mistaken. #sorrynotsorry
No matter how much you want to believe that your reader will read 10 pages about the experience and values of your company and the quality methods and materials you’ll use and why they should pick you over your competitors, no one – AND I MEAN NO-ONE – will read any of that until they’ve found the price of your quote.
When reading for pleasure, sure, we’ll read from page 1 and work our way through.
When reading in business, we simply don’t.
So like I said in point 2, answer the reader’s questions first.
I’ve had the privilege in the last 12 months of watching my 2 youngest daughters very rapidly transition into high-functioning, self-sufficient young adults. It happened so fast. I didn’t realise it was coming like that.
One minute I had a 15- and 16-year-old at high school.
The next minute I had:
a 17-year-old licenced driver with her first car, milking full time at a job she got for herself, coming home each day with eyes sparkling and covered in cowshit, and
a 16-year-old paying cash for a late-model 150cc motorbike on her birthday, organising every aspect of the process, from the research through to the courses and tests and insurance.
They both want independence. They’re both resourceful and capable.
It’s terrifying and glorious.
But that’s all context for what I really want to write today.
I want to talk about risks, resilience, and preparedness.
Risks, resilience, and being prepared
I experienced some of that “terrifying and glorious” at the beginning of this year. Here’s how it went.
I had just got off the phone with my youngest.
I was on another island, hundreds of kilometres from her. And she was just about to take her new motorbike for a spin around our neighbourhood.
There were risks involved in this exercise.
I was confident that she was prepared.
And because of that, both she and I had a good idea of a range of possible outcomes, and were prepared for those.
Being prepared for any possible outcomes is one of the fundamentals of resilience.
How to get prepared
Here’s how she prepared.
The day of her 16th birthday was the day she picked up her motorbike. She got online and organised insurance. The same day, she sat and passed her written driver’s licence test. Then she took a skills course to make sure she was prepared to handle the bike.
And now she was ready to go for a ride.
She was home alone. No one was there to see her off or supervise or welcome her back and debrief after the ride.
I was shitting myself.
Here’s how we prepared.
The phone conversation went like this:
Me: OK, let’s just run through a couple of scenarios before you head out, since no one’s there with you.
Me: What happens if you drop the bike?
(She has once already, and it’s pretty heavy, and she’s not a big kid. She needed help to pick it up.)
Her: I’ll try to pick it up, first. But if I can’t, I’ll call Papa.
(Thank goodness for amazing grandparents – my dad used to train Ministry of Transport Motorbike Officers.)
Me: Yup, perfect. You might be able to pick it up. But before you call Papa, look around. Can you see anyone outside their house? Can you see a house that looks like someone’s home? If there’s someone nearby who looks strong enough to help, ask them first.
Her: Oh, ok, yup.
Me: OK, now what if the worst happens and you crash into something, or a car bumps you or something?
Her: I call the police.
Me: Well yep, if it’s bad enough, sure. But let’s say you crash into a parked car. You don’t need to call the police right then. What do you think you can do?
Her: Go into the house where the car is parked and try to see if someone’s home. Is that the kind of answer you’re looking for?
Me: Yup, you can, but I was thinking more of your welfare. You’ve just had an accident, and you don’t need to freak out, because you’re not actually alone. I think the answer is pretty much the same as the first one: Do what you can do yourself, look for help nearby, and call Papa if all else fails. Of course, if you’re hurt, call 111.
Her: Oh, ok. Yup.
(She is not a woman of many words, LOL.)
Me: OK, so call me when you get home so I know you’re safe.
Being prepared, mentally, can be the difference between life and death
It’s like drownings at the beach.
In general, people don’t drown because they can’t swim. They drown because they panic, and that means they can’t make resourceful decisions and they get exhausted, FAST.
If, before you (or your kids) went into the water, you thought through some what-ifs, then when one of those things happens, your brain says, OK, this is one of those things we planned for. I know what to do.
I’m allowing myself to still let them give me the creeps. I’m allowing myself to fear finding one crawling up my leg, so that when, heaven forbid, that DOES happen, I freak out just a tad…
(Something noteworthy here for my international peeps: In NZ we only have one poisonous spider, and it lives in one very limited ecosystem. So I genuinely have nothing to fear from 99.99% of the spiders I meet.)
What’s stopping us?
I was thinking about this as I watched my young teenage daughter attempting to hang a swing over a branch over our waterhole. She literally spent HOURS throwing that damn rope over and between branches in an attempt to get it in EXACTLY THE RIGHT PLACE.
And sitting back, I watched her, and looked at the tree and its branch. It’s not a huge tree. It’s not a particularly high branch. Any one of us could climb that tree and, in minutes, place the rope exactly where she wants it.
But what was stopping us is spiders. None of us wants to climb that tree, because #spiders.
Fear and choices
But it’s a choice.
And I guess that’s the difference at this stage of my life – I KNOW it’s a choice.
I haven’t yet overcome my fear of spiders, but I know I CAN, when I choose to.
I can ignore them and climb that tree.
I can choose not to think about them, be aware I might touch one or one might crawl on me, but know there’s nothing bad that can happen – an icky spider on me doesn’t actually do any harm.
I haven’t yet had the drive to do that. I haven’t needed to. I haven’t chosen to.
But the fact remains that I know I can, and I will when that time comes.
Our power lies in knowing we can choose
For example, if I was being chased by a bear or a zombie or a serial killer, and climbing that tree would save my life, I’d be able to overcome my fear of spiders pretty damn quick.
If my child was stuck up that tree, I’d do it. If her throwing that damn rope again and again started to put her in some sort of danger, I might find the drive to overcome my fear.