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During an informal coffee shop meeting the other day with a colleague, I was reminded that approaches which come naturally to one profession can be pretty much unknown in another.

Two takeaways came out of this. First, pay close attention to other people’s perspectives. They may offer solutions that might never occur to you. Second, freely share your own toolkit with other people since you might have an answer that would never occur to them.

In that spirit, here is a framework – just four questions, really – that I start with when I’m doing communications planning.

1. What are you saying?
In the jargon of communications folks (and yes, admit it, we do have jargon), “what are you saying” shows up as “key messages.” Keep these few and short. You should be able to reel these off as an elevator speech — and that elevator should be in a short building. If you can’t easily commit your key messages to memory, neither will anyone else.

2. Who are you saying it to?
This will show up on your communications plan template as “key audiences.” There’s a temptation here, particularly in marketing and advertising, to think everyone is interested in what you have to say. They’re not. You want to identify those people who would not only be interested in your message, but be motivated to do something about it. Which brings us to the next question.

3. What do you want them to do once they’ve heard it?
One of the hardest parts of any communications plan is to figure out what you want people to do once they’ve heard you out. This is the “why” of your plan. Why are you doing this, that is, what are you trying to achieve? The answer to these questions should link with your organization’s or client’s goals (here’s a good time to review that mission statement!) Once you’ve got this nailed down, identify some concrete, measurable objectives. “Measurable” is key. “Build profile” is not an objective, unless you define what a bucket of profile looks like, and how you’ll know when the bucket is bigger.

4. How will you know they’ve done what you wanted them to do?
Remember how those objectives needed to be measurable? Here’s why — it’s how you prove to your client or the higher-ups in your organization that your work has produced results. Measure outcomes, not outputs. No one cares if you’ve given out 5,000 free tickets; they want to know if people actually came to the show. Measurement also guides future efforts. Didn’t hit it out of the park this time? Take a look at the numbers. What worked? What didn’t? What can we add, omit, or tweak the next time to improve our chances of success?