I was on Parliament Hill recently and as my colleagues and I fanned out to share our messages I kept thinking about all the possible outcomes ahead of us. We had the same message to deliver, but personal style and approach can make subtle changes occur that effect comprehension, reception and even perceived objective. This means that when presenting an idea, the question of knowing EXACTLY what you want is critical.
Whether presenting to government, an interviewer or potential client, it can mean the difference between success and failure. If you are unclear about your issue, or do not ensure that your audience is clear on what you want, you may find yourself achieving an outcome you didn’t anticipate. As time management expert Alan Lakein so succinctly put it, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Take for instance the consumer advocate groups that lobbied the Canadian federal government for years on the issue of labelling of cigarette packaging. They asked government to ban or restrict the word “light” from cigarette packages. They were concerned that the use of the word would lead the public to think that these cigarettes were somehow not as bad for them as “regular” cigarettes. In December 2004, then Minister of Health, Ujjal Dosanjh, was pleased to announce that the use of the words “light” and “mild” would be prohibited from use on future cigarette packages. Imagine his surprise, when on hearing his announcement, the various associations in question responded with criticism. It seems that they were actually using the “light” discussion as an example of the kind of wording they did not want used. As it happens their “ask” was a good deal more complex than the use of one or two words, they were quite legitimately concerned about the use of any language or imagery that might be perceived as misleading, this included the use of numbers or coloring. Subsequently, they did not see the change as sufficient.
By February of 2005, a grassroots campaign had been launched to tell government that their announced changes hadn’t gone far enough. The subsequent nature of the relationship between the Minister and the associations following these events can only be speculated on, but needless to say a good deal of engagement would have been necessary to maintain good relations.
Knowing exactly what you want before you initiate anything, from a meeting to a full communications campaign, provides you with a path. Waiting until you are at a critical meeting or juncture is not the time to to determine what you want. Brainstorming in tight circumstances is unlikely to be productive or successful. Its also likely to lead to frustration for you and those around you. If you know precisely what outcome you are trying to achieve, you are also in a better position to spot options or opportunities, it gives you the flexibility to take short cuts that will satisfy your objectives. Knowing what you want means you are also in a better position to anticipate how long the process will take and what you will need to do in order to be successful.
When have you planned and succeeded? Have you been taken by surprise by an outcome? Have you ever failed to plan and subsequently missed an opportunity?