The Repeatability Factor

One of the questions we hear at the midpoint of a workshop or coaching engagement is: “How do you know so much about our business?” There are some companies that we know well, but what we tell many groups is it feels like we know you because we’ve shifted your storyline to what your listeners value about you. We may not know you in and out, but we know the listeners sitting in your presentation pretty well.

And, the response to skeptic clients is the same. When someone wants help building a compelling storyline, we sometimes hear “You don’t know our business well enough.” And, my response is always: It’s your job to know your business. It’s my job to know your listener.

Our work revolves around the communicator, but our approach is based on the expectations of the listener. And, we explain it this way. We build the communicator’s skills through fundamentals on content structure and delivery expectations. But, our measure of success is set by the listeners’ takeaway.

And, we call that measurement the repeatability factor.

Repeatability is the goal of most business content, isn’t it?

If you deliver a sales pitch on a new product, you expect your customer to repeat it to others in their company until there is agreement to move forward.

If you introduce a product development protocol, you expect engineers to repeat it to their teams until the timeline and new approach is adopted.

If you set a new strategy in a town hall, you expect employees to repeat it and discuss it among themselves until there is buy-in and excitement about a new direction.

Those expectations mean that the success of communication is actually in the hands of the listeners. And, those are high expectations for listeners! In fact, if you’ve read our latest book, Storylines & Storytelling, you know that listeners say their expectations for repeatability are seldom met.

Communicators must be able to build a storyline that helps a listener understand what you want them to do with the content and then gives them elements within that content which are easy to repeat.

That’s the methodology behind our content work.

A storyline that frames the overall direction of communication, a message that defines an outcome that the storyline will prove out, and a framework that organizes data points to help the listener buy into the outcome.

All of these elements get the listener to an outcome or takeaway. But in many presentations, listeners get it and forget it in less than 24 hours. So, well-structured content can still be missing the repeatability factor. Repeatability means thinking beyond what you will say to consider what the listeners will repeat about the content a few weeks later.

Here’s our acid test for repeatability in presentations.

When we work with someone on an upcoming presentation, it often involves a PPT deck. We take the deck and spread it out across a large table so that the communicator can visually see the flow of their storyline.

Then, we ask them to imagine that they are now the listener two weeks after their presentation has occurred. As a listener, they remember the message and remember thinking there were a few key points. We ask the communicator to look through the deck and identify the points that are repeatable.

What do they think the listener will focus on? Can they find the repeatable slide…or the repeatable story…that is easy to pull out of this storyline and insert into another one?

Unfortunately, not very often.

If someone has to spend a lot of time looking through notes or a PPT deck trying to remember the points or translate details, they simply won’t do it very often. That means the storyline is missing the repeatability factor.

When it’s there, it can be the distinguishing factor between content that lives within an organization or dies shortly after it’s delivered.

And, we see it in companies we know well where we work on storylines at multiple levels. We often tell a story like this one to validate the repeatability factor:

I worked with Evan earlier this year on a recommendation for a new product platform. He was making a multi-million-dollar request of division leaders across his company. As the technology lead, he was excited about the recommendation, but it would mean a disruptive six months for product development across all the divisions.

As we built his storyline, I felt he needed to provide more context around competitors’ product capabilities. I knew his audience would need this to believe there was urgency in changing their product platform. Evan was hard to convince because he felt the features of the new platform would sell the idea. He was more focused on how they would build future products rather than why they needed to change their approach.

I finally convinced him to include a slide that illustrated the capabilities of two top competitors because of platform changes they had made in the last two years. If you’ve taken our storylines or executive conversations workshop, you’ll recognize this as framing the External Perspective. Once he understood it, Evan did a good job of setting the stage with what was happening and how customers had responded to the new capabilities available on competitive platforms. Then, he set up the gaps in their existing platform and explained to the division leaders how he’d like to solve for the gap.

They bought into his recommendation, but each division leader had to resell the idea to their product teams and across their divisions.

When we were working on his storyline, I explained to Evan the concept of repeatability. I took him through the “acid test” exercise, and he agreed the competitive comparison would be his repeatability factor. We worked hard to make the competitive slide simple and easy to repeat. And, it worked.

For the next two months, Evan saw each division leader take his information on the competitive platforms, reuse his slide and validate the need for change across each division. They approached it differently and focused on the advantages it gave their division, but each leader kept his competitive story intact. It was repeated across each division and even evolved into a competitive analysis in three divisions for a more robust look at added functionality.

That’s repeatability!

And when you achieve it in your presentations, you’ve reached our measure of success. We can help you get there, and a great way to start is to test one of your presentations. Send it to us. We’ll put it through the “acid test.”

Call us when you need us.