CREATING MESSAGE INTEGRITY: THE COAT TREE ANALOGY
All presentations need a structure, but the structure that will work the best depends on the goal you have in mind. Are you informing? Persuading? Some of both? The suggested structure for informative presentations is usually more “linear,” while the suggested structure for persuasive presentations can be more holistic and varied.
Whether you are informing or persuading, something that is important is what I call “Message Integrity.” Message Integrity means your message is consistent. The information flows logically and is accessible to your audience. Message Integrity increases understanding and makes it more likely your audience will remember what you say.
Below, I share an analogy that will help you understand the concept of Message Integrity and guide you in creating it in your presentations.
Creating Integrity in Your Presentation
“Message Integrity” is a “Low-Context” communication concept (blog/high-low-context-communication-part-1). Low-Context communicators think and are taught to communicate information linearly. They are accustomed to structuring information. High-Context communicators are more tolerant of a less structured message, one that meanders or goes off on tangents. If your presentation lacks structure and your message lacks integrity, you are likely to lose your Low-Context listeners' attention. The information you want to share or the action you want them to take will not be received.
The analogy I use to help people understand the concept of “Message Integrity” is “The Coat Tree Analogy.” A coat tree is an object that stands in the entryway of a home or office where people hang their coats.
The coat tree signifies the structure that you verbally create early in the presentation. The branches of the coat tree represent key topics and concepts you want to cover. When you get to the point in your presentation of going into more detail about these key topics, the facts, evidence, and solutions, have a neat place to hang in your listener's mind.
If a coat tree only has one branch, it can only hold one coat. As you organize what you want to share in your presentation, make sure the early part of the presentation (introduction and background) has enough branches to accommodate everything you want to refer to the presentation.
Neatly hanging your messages on a branch of the coat tree creates coherence in your listener's mind. Their brain is happy because the information you are sharing has a place to “land.” Their comprehension of what you are saying is increased, and they are more likely to remember your message after you have finished.
One way to approach the creation of your coat tree is to “reverse engineer” your content. First, brainstorm all of the important details you absolutely must share with the audience for them to take your point, then create your tree with a branch for each important fact (or set of facts). To keep things from getting out of control, keep your coat tree to 4-5 branches.
An example may make this clearer.
A couple of years ago, I coached a client who used an analogy to compare her department to the rest of the company. The analogy she used was the comparison between a speed boat and a cargo ship. The company operated like a speed boat (quick and agile), but her department operated more like a cargo ship (slow and awkward).
Given the point she wanted to make, the nautical analogy worked. The problem was that in the first iteration of her presentation, she introduced the analogy on the last slide! She had referred to the two types of boats earlier in the presentation, but the analogy wasn’t clear and lacked impact because it hadn’t been defined upfront. When she switched the order and started off defining the differences between a speed boat and a cargo ship, what came after regarding the changes she had made to her department to make it more responsive and agile, took on more meaning.
The Coat Tree Analogy has applications in all kinds of communication. We need to prime the brain of our listeners to receive the key points we want to share. Creating Message Integrity will improve the understanding and retention of everything you say.