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A Simple Way to Improve Your Communication
Lead with the key idea to drive clarity, hook readers and maximise value
Summary: Say the most important thing first. Not at the end. Not after setting context. This applies to product briefs, leadership reviews, articles, resumes and presentations. You can identify the most important pieces by asking two questions: What Am I Really Trying to Say and Why Should I Care?
I shared a Twitter thread (a series of connected tweets) based on last week’s article. I opened with context and a picture of Obama. What’s not to like?
The most valuable piece of the thread was the template I included in the fourth tweet. But a week later, I noticed that only 3% of people who saw the thread got to the most valuable part.
What went wrong?
Answer: I had buried the lead. This was a mistake that I, and maybe some of you, have made in the past.
A lead is the most important and eye-catching idea of a story. The lead sets the foundation for the narrative and entices readers to keep reading.
Burying a lead is putting this important idea deep into the story. Surfacing the lead, on the other hand, is opening with the most important idea. Each successive paragraph then fleshes out the main idea for those interested in getting deeper into the concept.
There are a few benefits of surfacing with the lead:
Hooks readers: you’re more likely to keep reading if the opening lines are insightful and eye-catching.
It makes the content skimmable: someone can read just the introduction and understand the content and key takeaways.
Creates more aggregate value: the lead is often the most useful thing in a story. By surfacing it, more people will be exposed to the lead. This maximises the value created by your content.
I wanted to try a new thread on Twitter — but this time, I opened with the lead (the template). Impressions of the template itself increased by 10x!
🔍 Finding the Lead
Identifying the lead in your story is easier said than done.
One framework that I find especially helpful in identifying the lead is asking myself two questions:
“What Am I Really Trying to Say? (WAIRTS): Take a step back and try to answer this question. Pretend you’re telling a friend what you’re trying to explain over beer or coffee. Use simple language and jot down the points you mention.
Why Should I Care? (WSIC): Pair WAIRTS with reasons why your reader should care. This may be direct outcomes of the lead.
I try to answer these for every article. Here are a real WAIRTS and WSIC I wrote for the article The Best Way to Build Credibility 🤝
WAIRTS: Replace vague statements with actions and results
WSIC: This makes your writing clearer. It also makes it specific to you, builds credibility and uncovers useful information.
🌟 Not Just For Writing
Here’s a fun fact: nearly every internal doc at Facebook begins with a tl;dr (too long; didn’t read). Surfacing the lead has become a part of the culture. Likewise, I see it often and wanted to share a few examples where I’ve seen value in surfacing the lead.
When reviewing a plan with leadership, the lead is often a question you need to be answered. Next time you’re reviewing a plan, try pulling the key questions to the top of the document or presentation to facilitate a better conversation. For example:
Title: [Leadership Reveiw] Business Case for launching product X in South Africa
Are we aligned on a budget of $500M for 2021?
Should we invest more in go-to-market partnerships?
Product briefs outline the key details of a product. They are often viewed by many people with little context on your team’s work area.
This is why I start all product briefs with an accessible tl;dr statement. It includes details like the user problem, the proposed solution, goals and a high level strategy. For example:
Title: [Team XYZ] Feature X Product Brief
New users find the home screen overwhelming, causing them to not buy their first stock.
We propose adding a new user onboarding expreince.
We’ll build it by starting with Milestone 1 followed by Milestone 2 in Q1 2022.
Resumes, LinkedIn and Self-Reviews
The most common way to frame your experiences is to use the STAR framework (Situation, Task, Action, Result). A consulting friend shared a format I thought was even better: RCAR (results, context, action results).
In this context, results are the lead that you want the reader to remember. Bring it to the front and close out the bullet point with another result
Create marketing materials and publicize events through social media. Saw increased attendance at several club programs throughout the year
Boosted attendance by 36% for a series of marketing events in 2020; designed new marketing materials that contributed to $1,000 incremental ticket revenue
Share the most important point(s) first. Add more details with each paragraph that comes after.
Surfacing the lead can hook readers, make content more skimmable and create more aggregate value.
Ask yourself What Am I Really Trying to Say and Why Should I Care to help identify the salient points.
This isn’t just for writing; try using it on your next leadership review, product brief doc or self-review.
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