Three powerful shortcuts to brief communication

2 Nov 2020

Being clear, and concise isn’t easy. So here are three shortcuts to brief communication.

In a previous article, I described how lots of coaches talk about the importance of brief communication and why we should always be clear and concise when we communicate. I also highlighted the fact many of them don’t show exactly how to be brief, or how to summarize things clearly.

To avoid putting myself in the ‘why but not how’ category here are three really simple ways to communicate briefly that you can start using in your work conversations today.

Step 1: Provide context

This is the topic you want to talk about. Of all the topics in the world, this is the one you will talk about now. This is easy to do if you start your message with a simple context-based statement.

  1. Name the project or the issue.
  2. Name the process, system, or tool you will talk about.
  3. Give the name of the customer with whom you are working.
  4. Name the task or objective you want to talk about.

The options are endless. The key to brief communication is to give the context quickly, and clearly. This way, your audience knows the topic or area you are going to talk about.

Step 2: Clarify intent

Make it clear what you want the audience to do with the information you are about to share. Most work-related intentions fall into one of five categories. For each category, it is possible to describe the intent of the message in one line. The table below shows the categories and some examples of how to add intent.


Category of intention Examples
Needing help/advice/input Can you help me? We need your input. I need some advice. Can you explain something?
Requesting action Can you provide an update on A? Can you send the contract to Zoe?
Wanting a decision We need a decision on X
Letting someone know something is about to happen, so they are not surprised Heads up, something is about to happen on X. You need to know this before you talk to the client.
Providing information/input the other person asked for previously Here’s the report you asked for. Here’s the information you requested.


As with providing context, it only takes a few words to make your intent clear. Using a line like the ones shown in the table will let your audience know what they need to do with the information.

Step 3: Give a key message

The key message is the most important part of the overall message you are about to deliver (the headline). Your key message is the line that contains the most important piece of information your audience needs to know. The key message doesn’t have to summarize every detail of the topic you want to talk about, but it does have to be the most important message you need to communicate.

Here are some more examples of concise key message statements from common workplace situations. Each one is a summary of a much larger topic, but the key message is in a single line. All the explanations and justifications have been stripped out. Only the core message remains.

  • ‘We just closed a new client.’
  • ‘The team beat the service-level target.’
  • ‘Our most experienced developer is leaving.’
  • ‘The system is down, and it will take a week to fix.’
  • ‘We are over budget.’
  • ‘We will finish early.’
  • ‘I missed a deadline, and the customer is upset.’
  • ‘The client is asking for more time.’
  • ‘You have been nominated for an award.’

Having a key message is critical to suvccessful brief communication. As long as the message includes the most important point, you are doing well.

These three things combine into something I refer to as the ‘framing’ for a conversation. The three components of framing are context, intent and key message. If you put all three components together into succinct framing statements you can start your work conversations quickly and clearly.

Framing = Name the topic + Describe the intent + Get to the point

This technique, and others, are described in more detail in my upcoming book The First Minute. Check it out if you want to learn how to start your work conversations with clarity, every time.