What’s the Big Idea: How to Distill a Complex Crisis Into a Few Key Talking Points

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One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received was “no one wants to read what you are writing.” Meaning that even if someone has asked you to write something, they don’t really want to spend their time reading the results. They would rather be off playing golf or watching their kids’ soccer game. So, the goal of your writing is not to display the scope of your knowledge but to convey information as succinctly as possible. The same advice applies in a crisis—few people are interested enough to take the time to understand the nuances—you need to focus them on a few (2-4) key and easy to understand points that can be stated in a sentence or less.

Like most things, this is easier said than done. Details matter, after all. How do you know what the key points are, anyway? Sometimes you can figure these out from thinking about crisis—what I call building up. If there was an outbreak of food poisoning at your restaurant, your keep points might be 1) Everyone has recovered 2) We identified the source of the tainted food and changed suppliers and 3) We are monitoring our suppliers more closely to this doesn’t happen again.

Sometimes, however, things are more complex, and you have to build down. Think about the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of your crisis. Construct a narrative of the story you want to tell with all the pieces you think are important. Then start removing words and sentences and consolidating the text. Take out as much material as you can before the structure starts to fall apart. Put what remains into bullet points, then try to remove or consolidate those. What remains are most likely your key points.

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