Creating Output

A major reason for the success of streaming services like Netflix has been the elimination, or mitigation, of commercials. After all, everyone hates commercials. With that said, we have all seen them, but have you ever watched a television commercial where it is unclear what they are advertising or selling? If so, I think you might agree that this is the worst form of an already annoying concept. At the very least, the commercial should have a point or a call to action. You may not realize it, but this is a rather profound concept when applied to the professional services industry.

Like a commercial, the communications, written and verbal, of a consultant may be viewed adversely by clients when their message is unclear or does not get to the point. Consultants should practice communicating with clients in a clear, concise, and targeted manner to drive client actions and understanding. We call these client communications (both verbal and written) ‘output’. We have found that many consultants, especially those with minimal experience, struggle to develop and build effective output. Admittedly, this takes practice, but it is extremely important for any consulting firm or consultant to focus on because with each poor communication or output, you lose credibility with your client. If this occurrence becomes common, you may become like a commercial and what you are communicating falls on deaf ears. Now that you understand the concept of output and why it is important, let’s dig in to how it should be created.

Creative Meetings and ‘Check-My-Thinking’ Reviews

Preparation is the key to developing effective output and is imperative to its application with the client. When creating documents or planning for a presentation (two of the primary types of output) you should begin building the documents well in advance of when they are needed. This obviously supplies you and your team with ample time to develop high quality work, but it goes beyond that. You have built in time to review and iterate on the output being produced and it provides the opportunity to really think through the entire idea and ask the following key questions:

    • What are we trying to tell our client?
    • What are we trying to educate them on?
    • What reaction do we want from our client?

We advise that these questions be answered in a group (include a partner) creative or brainstorming session, where an initial point of view can be established through team consensus and then carried forward by the output owner. The output owner is now enabled to build a foundational outline, or better yet, a storyboard to organize the key points that will be shared with the client. Following the creation of the storyboard, a ‘check-my-thinking’ review should be scheduled to discuss the foundation and determine next steps. The document will change overtime, but this foundation is critical to moving forward.

Adding Detail

Following the check-my-thinking meeting, a path forward has been established and detail is ready to be added to the outline of the storyboard. This is the point where you will start writing or building the output that will be shared with the client. Again, several versions will need to be created before the output is finalized. Editing and iterating is critical to developing a final product that is well-written, visually appealing, concise, and, most importantly, delivers a message that is relevant to client needs. During this process, several reviews should be scheduled and/or multiple versions of the output shared back and forth between multiple consultants. There are several tools at your disposal here such as editing software and literature on writing (we suggest Writing Well) but nothing replaces the proofreading and or thought checking conducted by members of your team. After several iterations, you must now determine if the output created can stand-alone or if it needs to be accompanied by a presentation. Documents are great for covering the details, but often you’ll need to present your points to your clients.

Presenting the Output

The final step in producing effective output is determining what information must be presented directly to the client to tell the proper story. In a perfect world, documents act as a reference guide, but the story comes in a different form of output, a presentation. Unfortunately, there are a lot of presentations that fail to tell the correct story, these are like bad commercials. Remember that storyboard that was created and developed into a document? This is where that comes back into play. It has been updated from its original version, but at this juncture the storyboard, or document outline, should reflect the key points to be addressed in the presentation. Included in this are visuals, because, as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words. This is your presentation, your story to the client, and it is the most effective form of output.

There’s nothing more frustrating than an unclear message, but they can be found everywhere. Why? Well, for consultants it is likely because they have not put the time or effort into the process of creating effective output. As consultants, we must always remember that time is limited, therefore we must be sure to follow a process and use the resources and tools at our disposal to create output that is clear, concise, and properly targeted. By doing so we can create clear messages that cover the most important points and prove the value that you are creating for your clients and their business. I can assure you that your clients will appreciate it.

Written by: Dean McMann

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About the Author: Dean McMann is a Founding Partner at McMann & Ransford with 35+ years of experience in consulting and professional services.  He is a sought-after expert and speaker on topics of: B2B differentiation, professional services best practices, and overcoming commoditization.  In addition to his extensive experience in the Professional Services space, Dean also serves on the board of various non-profit organizations.

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