In a few recent posts I talked about challenges growing an engineering startup team. The first one was about the timing of new processes and what are the right hires for early stages of a startup. The more recent one was about keeping sight of your 1 year plan and not drowning in daily firefights.
They both talked about the what to focus on, but not about the how to achieve it. There is one soft-skill that stands out as the biggest helper in this regard. It is learning to communicate well.
Not-so-great plans and ideas can succeed and bring value if communicated well. Genius plans can fail if they lack buy-in and understanding. Luckily, improving communication is one of the easiest skills to improve rapidly. So what can help?
The first things that comes to mind is compressing the message into as little words as possible. The art is in retaining the core message. The larger the crowd you talk to, the less attention of their attention will be available. With a close colleague you can debate the nuances of your ideas for hours. Your team will listen for fifteen minutes. People will only remember a few single sentences from an all-hands meeting.
A great way to reinforce this skill is headline-first communication. Look at recent Slack messages or slides you created. Is the takeaway clear within a second? Usually located at the top, in bold, as a headline. Or are you a storyteller and the message hides between lines or gets unraveled at the very end?
Great company or product strategies will be concise and straight to the point. The business context will be shared at the end for those who want to dive deeper, it won't be the first paragraph.
Another way to practice is writing tl;dr's. Once you write them, consider replacing the whole message with just the tl;dr. Delete everything else. At the very least, take the tl;dr and make it the first sentence.
One great tool I use (and I've used it to write this post) is the Hemingway editor. It will push you to be clear and punchy in your writing. Google it and put your last message to your team under scrutiny. What did it tell you? One of my favorite tips the tool gives me is: "be bold, don't hedge".