Career Tip #13: Answer First

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"Answer First" means that in any communications setting you should give the answer first (your point of view, recommendation, conclusion, finding, etc.) and then follow with details. This is applicable when you come into your manager’s office to propose an idea, or when you’re presenting a proposal to a group, or if you’re in a 1×1 with a peer talking about a new direction.

Many people do it the other way around – build up the background,
details of decision criteria, lay out all the options, and eventually they get to the recommendation or decision is. When you load someone up with a bunch of words before you get to the point, you’ve diluted your point.

Presenting answer first is also the right way to write press releases and typically how newspaper stories are written. The gist of the story is usually found in the first two paragraphs, and the rest of the article is details.

Why "answer first"?

  1. Executives communicate that way, and they want to be communicated to that way (in 1x1s or in a presentation). Why would an executive promote someone who rambles or seems indecisive?
  2. Answer first forces you to communicate your point or decision early in a conversation, and that portrays authority and confidence.
  3. Giving the punch line in the beginning causes people to pay attention to the details, if they are needed. And if they aren’t needed, and the executive or audience approves of your ‘answer’ or decision, then shut up!
  4. Because ‘less is more’ the points and decisions you are trying to make will stand out, rather than the details.
  5. If you spend more time communicating directions and point of views, you will get more done.

Most people were taught to present with an introduction, then put the meat in the middle and conclude. Instead, present like an open-faced sandwich – meat first, and then bread (i.e. the details, if needed).

5 Responses

  1. Great post Sam – and a great point. I think the best part of this is the “don’t dilute your answer” comment. By talking before you have actually answered you’re just giving the recipient time to devise opinions and doubts about what you’re saying. This is the same when negotiating – don’t defend your argument before you’ve made your point. Great stuff Sam.

  2. This is so true! I was sitting in an executive level meeting to discuss delivery dates on a project that was slipping. We were on page 2 of the Powerpoint deck and all of a sudden the president says “Just tell me what the date is! What page should we skip to to get to the date?” The answer was on page 8 🙂 I learned an important lesson in that meeting. ALWAYS get to the point first and then get to the details.
    Sam, this post is spot on!

  3. The best thing I read last week. Very true and sadly, rarely practiced. So many companies (large and small) spend tons of time and money ‘teaching people to communicate’ but don’t address this point. I have suffered through so many presentations where the point of the presentation has been buried so deep you’d think the person giving the presentation didn’t want you to find it.

  4. Answer First

    Tell ’em what you’re going to say!

  5. Answer First

    Tell ’em what you’re going to say!

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