Felicity Cowie

By Felicity Cowie, Global Communications Trainer | Award-winning former BBC News & Panorama journalist 

Do you feel dazzled, even overwhelmed by the amount of information you have to mentally download and then share about the scale of the change you want to make in your organisation. Here’s a simple tool to help you. 

You need to gain your own clarity first so that you can then engage other people. As Einstein said, ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’.  

Working as a breaking news journalist for both the BBC and ITV in their global newsrooms it was critical that I figured out how to process huge amounts of incoming information so that I could work at speed with my co-journalists. Together we needed to be able to share that information in a way which would engage our audiences. Today I share these skills with businesses working on change.  

A simple tool 

To find your headlines which get to the heart of the changes you want to make you need to ask yourself 6 questions: 

  1. Who are you? 
  1. What do you do? 
  1. Where or when do you do it? (proof it’s tangible) 
  1. How do you do it? (more detail on the ‘what’) 
  1. Why do you do it? 
  1. Who are you? (next place to go and find out more).  

Let me give you an example of how that works so you can apply it to your own change: 

And then you need to crunch this all down into around 50 words.  

Engage other people  

With the answers to these questions, you will be able to engage other people so they can help you work on your business transformation together. And stay on track. Why does this work?  

Human brains are built to be very efficient so when presented with new information they will automatically run these 6 questions – think of them as algorithms used to rank data. If you are able to provide answers to all 6 questions fast, within around 50 words, then your listener’s brain is able to prioritise what you are saying. Of course, you will still need to work to keep the interested but you’ve overcome the first and biggest obstacle of being rejected as a source of no or low-ranking data.  

Working with multiple stakeholders 

Is the change you want to lead on in your business very clear in your own head? But are you getting frustrated with other people not ‘getting it’ or moving fast enough? 

By unpacking what’s in your head into these 50 words you make it much easier for other people to relay your information. This can be especially useful when you are working with multiple stakeholders, and you want to keep the headlines up front.  

Did you know that in order to consistently deliver a breaking news story, newsrooms delegate tasks and even budgets to a range of people from graphics designers to camera operators, to guests, to the on-air talent. These tasks and budgets are often split out using the answers to the six questions. For example, a graphics team will be tasked to go and bring to life the ‘where’ a breaking story is happening.  

Early warning system 

You may be finding it hard to keep key goals in focus as your business encounters unexpected ‘developments’. Even when you want to be flexible – to make the most of new opportunities and avoid inevitable emerging risks – you are eager to keep all eyes on the ultimate prize? A way of doing that is to use your 50 words as an ‘early warning system’ so that you can get in front of distractions and keep everybody on track. For example, if timetables start to slide you can revisit the ‘when’ and use this to check whether delays actually still suit the ‘when’ or if there’s no way this can be compromised. 

Be vulnerable together 

Are you urgently seeking a safe way to work where you and your team can be honest and vulnerable together, where it’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know’ in the face of making change. Yet you all retain your reputations as experts and leaders? 

Journalists are able to unpack and relay breaking news information fast because they are unashamed to say ‘I don’t know’ to each other and their audiences – this rapid flagging makes it possible for answers to be found fast. And stops blind spots developing during transformation.  

When you are making change saying ‘I don’t know’ about one specific area, e.g., ‘how’ to do something is far less daunting than feeling that the whole project has become overwhelming. Interrogating the 50 words together to see what is known and what is not becomes a useful and powerful team activity and way of framing progress update meetings.   

BOOK NOW to join award-winning former breaking news journalist Felicity on her 2-day online course Mastering Engagement to Make Business Change Happen later this month on 26 and 27 September.

Felicity draws from the world of journalism to present a hands-on process for articulating and implementing change within your business. The course comprises seven practical workshops, with ample opportunities to apply what you learn to real-world situations. 

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