Last summer, in the Time Before, my kids, husband and I took a road trip north to some of the roadside attractions of New Hampshire. We saw the Polar Caves (and survived the Lemon Squeeze!), drove around Mount Washington a bit, and visited what turned out to be our favorite: Clark’s Trading Post, famous for their one-ring circus and painting(!) bears.
And just like I was when I was their age, my boys were fascinated by all the tacky souvenirs in the gift shops there. Their favorite? The Clark’s version of a Swiss Army knife, personalized with the boys’ names. (This is where my boys and I are not alike, because they can reliably find their names. I have yet to see “Tamsen” emblazoned on a roadside souvenir. Sigh. It was the great disappointment of my childhood.)
That knife hooked them, and hooked them good. And it wasn’t just that their names were on it — no fighting over whose was whose! — it was all the different useful stuff that single tool could do. Knife! Screwdriver! Saw! Corkscrew!
I love tools like that, and not just in pocketknife form. It’s one of the reasons I like books like The Hero Succeeds and Save the Cat! so much: the tools and templates they present have more than one function. As Shawn Coyne points out in his book The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know, a single story structure template can have multiple uses. In his case, he uses his tool (the aforementioned Story Grid) as a guide for building new stories and novels. But, when he’s in editor mode, he also uses it to figure out what’s not working with a story or novel that’s already been built.
With Coyne’s imagined voice in my head, that’s how I often use the Red Thread®, especially when I’m reviewing messages, both for clients and out in the wild. With the Goal > Problem > Truth > Change > Action framework in mind, I’m looking for what’s missing, what’s out of order, and what, with a little tweaking, could be built stronger.
That’s part of why it was so fun to review Cathy Rashidian’s important message in this episode of “What’s Missing From This Message?”. While a lot of folks use the Red Thread to find and clarify their idea in the first place (Tool #1!) Cathy used it to structure hers (Tool #2!). Cathy sent her message to me and noted that she had built it with the Conversational Case™.
As you’ll see when you watch, the first version of her message was already very strong (so yay to the tool working as it should for building messages!). By using the Red Thread as an editing tool (Tool #3!), though, it was easy to see the two places she could make her message stronger:
First, make sure the Truth Statement part of her message read more like the “universal truth” it’s designed to be. So, instead of:
We all believe that stress can be a major inhibitor to productivity however the most overlooked challenge is those with ADHD neurology need specific tools to release stress and maintain focus and productivity.
I recommended she make it more like this (which is from her final version):
We all work better when we have productivity solutions that work for us, the same is true for someone with ADHD.
See the switch there? We made it something more people could agree with, and then used that as the basis for introducing the new concept.
The second “editing” use of the tool came in with noticing that there wasn’t really a single Change in her first version. There were six very important Actions, but the Change was missing. That’s important because a single, high-level Change helps people understand what the one big idea really is. Without that, they can often get lost among the choices, or worse, leave your message thinking only that you were explaining something and not urging them to act.
You can see her final version as published on Thrive Global (go Cathy!) and see how she chose to fix it. Pretty neat, eh?
While I often teach my clients and audiences the Red Thread® as a tool for building new messages, it has at least three “tools” in it that could be useful to you:
- As a way to build new messages or ideas from scratch
- As a way to structure your ideas so they’re as powerful as they can be
- As a way to analyze your messages for what’s working and what’s not
Just like you probably end up only using your 20-tool Swiss Army Knife most for only one or two things (knife and screwdriver, personally), the Red Thread® is meant to be used wherever you find it most useful — whether that’s before, during, or after you’ve drafted your message.
What’s your favorite use? I’d love to know.The Red Thread is meant to be used wherever you find it most useful — whether that's before, during, or after you've drafted your message. Click To Tweet
Please note that many of the links are affiliate links, which means if you buy a thing I link to, I get a percentage of the cost, and then donate it to charity.
What can happen when you keep working on your message? Well, not only can you find what’s missing from it, you can find the specific ways to make it stronger. That’s exactly what we’re doing on this episode of what’s missing from this message with a great before and after from viewer and listener, Cathy Rashidian.
So Cathy used a tool that I have called the conversational case to outline the bones of her message. You can get the conversational case too. It’s @tamsenwebster.com/conversationalcase. And what it does is walk you through a framework for coming up with what your idea is and or how to talk about it. And the first thing it asks is who are you talking to? And basically is helping you figure out how do you talk to those people to achieve a certain objective that you have. Now, her audience are HR Executives and team leaders who have adult folks with ADHD in the workplace. They want to educate those leaders on ADHD and adults and help those leaders provide tools and strategies to help those leaders create a supportive workplace. So let’s start walking through what Cathy had before. Now, what she has here is when we work with leaders who have adults with ADHD.
that’s the first blank on the conversational case. They often want to know how they can help that team member be more productive and focused so they deliver better value to all stakeholders, increase profitability and ultimately stay ahead of the competition. So I would agree this is in fact, a question that those folks would ask. So if you’ve got leaders who have adults with ADHD on their teams, they probably want to know how they can help those team members be more productive, more focused. And there’s that larger goal, which is how can they deliver better value to stakeholders as a company. And do all the other things that you want to do, like increase profitability and stay ahead of the competition. All right, the next part of the conversational case introduces what’s getting in the way of that. So when looking for that answer they, meaning the leaders often focus on traditional productivity solutions rather than taking a closer look at how an adult with ADHD can be productive, even with a distracted brain.
I really love how Cathy has filled in this balance here already. She’s balancing this tension between a focus on productivity solutions with what it is that an adult with ADHD needs to be productive, right? So there’s productivity solutions and there’s actually personalized productivity. So the next piece of this is we all believe that stress can be a major inhibitor to productivity. However, the most overlooked challenge with those, with ADHD, neurology, it needs specific tools to release stress and maintain focus and productivity. So on this one, this is where in the course of making an argument for your idea, you want to introduce a shared belief. And if it isn’t something that somebody already believes, it needs to be something that’s consistent with how they look at the world right now, I think we can absolutely agree all of us that stress is an inhibitor to productivity.
That’s not hard for us to validate outside of what Cathy’s talking about. But the second part of this, what I call truth statement is a little bit more problematic. And there’s something that we can do to fix this. So she says the most overlooked challenge is that those with ADHD neurology needs specific tools to release stress and maintain focus and productivity. Now that’s accurate, I’m sure. But one of the most powerful ways to get your message across is to ground it in the listeners and the audience’s own experience. And so one of the pieces of feedback that I gave to Cathy was see what she could do to change that? What could you she do to bring the larger truth back to the audience? And what I suggested was could she talk about how we all are more productive when we’ve got productivity solutions that work with us? Because if I could say yes to that, well, yeah, of course, if I’ve got a solution that works better for me, I’m going to be more productive.
Then it’s really a lot easier for me to say, well then of course, wouldn’t someone with ADHD benefit in a similar way. So that’s a small tweak, but it’s one of those things that would make her message much stronger. So she goes on to say that the good news is that you don’t need to be an ADHD expert in order to support individuals to become productive and focused. Wonderful transition here. She’s not really introducing any particularly new information, but it’s a good transition into the next part.
So the next part is where she’s providing the high level change or solution that she’s advocating for. That’s why our recommendation is to evaluate the six stressors or energy drains that can rob them, meaning the adults with ADHD, from being productive. So this is one of those things where absolutely her solution is the six drivers that you can see further down on the page. But one of the things that I said back to Cathy was, what would make this even stronger is figuring out what those six things roll up to. What’s the one high level change, the one big thing that’s different. And it’s probably something along the lines of, we need to make sure that we’ve aligned our productivity solutions to what is going to help somebody specifically be more productive. Once we’re within that, then the six particular pieces become specific actions that people can take.
So she goes on to explain how she gives the benefit when you understand those energy drains, you can expect a 100% fully engaged individual who’s capable of maximum productivity. You’ll notice they will operate at optimal peak performance. So she’s offering the free prize there, which is a phrase I borrowed from Seth Goden. She’s showing how, not only are people getting the answer to their question, how can they help someone be more productive? She’s also showing there’s this additional aspect of what can happen when you pay attention and personalize these solutions to particular people. So she goes on and the six pieces here, I’m not going to spend much time there because those are the heart of her solution. And most of the time we talk about those pieces of our solutions really well as does Cathy. It’s in making the case to those solutions that sometimes we struggle with.
But let me be clear. This was a great first attempt from Cathy because she really did make her case pretty well, but when it came to, how could she make it stronger? It really came down to those two elements that I talked about. One, how could she make that of truth statement in the middle that shared belief anchor more in the audience’s own perspective. And then second, how could she introduce some high level single shift and thinking or behavior that incorporated the six specific actions that she wanted people to take? So let’s take a look at what she did after. So you’ll notice with Cathy’s after that, a lot of the stuff didn’t change and that’s because she did such a great job to start with. So when we work with leaders who have adults with ADHD in their teams, same thing, they often want to know how they can help that team member be more productive and focused, and then have those benefits that we’re talking about.
So no changes there, because there weren’t any changes needed. It was already strong. Second piece, she made a little bit of an adjustment here in the problem. When looking for that answer, they often focus on traditional productivity solutions rather than taking a closer look at how an adult with ADHD can be productive with a personalized approach that suits their sometimes distracted brain. So here’s where she adopted what I was talking about. So she really tightened up that productivity solutions with these what’s personally effective for productivity. Then here comes this piece where we talked about the truth. We all work better when we have productivity solutions that work for us. That’s a statement we can all agree with. If I’ve got a productivity solution that works for me, I’m going to be more productive. And then she brings it back to the specific audiences she’s talking about with the adults with ADHD.
So she says the same is true for someone with ADHD. That allows someone to go from their own experience and then map it to somebody else. And that’s super effective when we’re talking about how to make the case for your idea. So she adds to that just a little bit more context. We also know that working under stress significantly reduces our productivity level. All right, so then she builds on that. When the ADHD brain and stress are combined, oftentimes adults with ADHD have challenges and regulating and managing their emotions. Which makes it hard for them to tap into the rational part of their brain to come up with solutions, to reduce stress. They feel stuck and will often hold back from asking for help. So in the context of her building case, she’s introduced that great shared belief that we all work better when we have productivity solutions that work for us.
And now she’s providing that additional context that really helps solidify her case. So as before, she’s got a great transition, good news is you don’t need to be an ADHD expert in order to support individuals becoming productive and focus. We need to find solutions that aren’t draining their energy and creating stress. So how do we do that? Now, here are the six individuals that we need to evaluate, and here’s where her high level change comes in. So the individual can not only become aware of what’s affecting their performance. It can also take a systemic approach and addressing each area to shift to a high performance state and total engagement in their day. Now she goes on of course, with the same six pieces that she had before. And I think there’s so one little thing that could make this even stronger. And that’s just to tighten up that high level shift in thinking or behavior.
Because in this case, what she’s talking about is in order to get the best performance out of those folks on your team with ADHD, we need to make sure that we are personalizing their productivity solutions so that they work best for the way their brains work. They are even tighter. Something give them the solutions they work with best so they can work best for, and with us something along those lines. So what can we take away from Cathy’s before and after? Well, the simple thing is that every message gets better when you work on it. But more specifically there’s really two things that made this particular message stronger. One was making sure that there was a shared belief that helped anchor the audience in their own experience so they could better understand what the true problem was for the audience that she’s talking about.
So the audience that she’s talking to those HR leaders can better understand the experience of an adult with ADHD. The second thing that she did that made this message even stronger was that she took those six steps and she found a way to make them into one high level shift in thinking or behavior that allows that big shift to stick. Both of those shifts are something you can do to, to make your message stronger. If you find that there’s something missing from your message. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com. This was this latest episode of What’s Missing From This Message. If you want me to take a look at one of your messages, just send it to me @redthreadmeattamsenwebster.com and you might just see it on a future episode of this show.
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