2 min read

Bottom line upfront

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Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Our lives have never been busier. If we aren’t rushing to a meeting, we will likely get back to an inbox full of requests, or IMs from colleagues asking for time. The biggest challenges I hear when it comes to writing is that people don’t have time to write, and their reader doesn't have time to read.

Now let’s flip this.

Think about the last meeting you sat in where no decision was made. How many have you sat in this week, or this month? For me, it’s about 10 this month alone! I was crying out for a document to read. I wanted to see that someone had put time and effort into thinking about the problem and their suggested solution. I wanted to have enough information to get myself up to speed, quickly.

I am not the fastest reader. In Amazon, it is normal to allocate 20 minutes to read a 4-6 page document before the discussion begins. 20 minutes for 6 pages means about 3 minutes per page. That’s not much. So how can you maximise discussion time but ensure the discussion is productive?


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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Bottom line upfront is where you front-load your idea into the opening paragraph. (It's shocking how few people read beyond the first paragraph!) Amazon has  a writing culture. This is something most other companies haven’t got (yet). Part of Amazon’s writing culture is pre-reads are rare. What I mean by a pre-read is sending the document around before the meeting to your reviewers. Amazon realised people were too busy and didn't read a document in advance. Instead, the document is distributed at the start of the meeting, and everyone then sits in silence reading.

If you are introducing more writing into your company, you may find people are more comfortable reading before the meeting. And when time is precious your opening paragraph has to pack a punch! This is an artform. This makes me think of the famous Churchill quote - “if I had more time, I’d have written a shorter note.”

When you get the opening paragraph right your readers should know why they are reading the document, the problem you are trying to solve, and your suggested solution or the outcome of your idea. Get this paragraph right and your reader has a decision to make; do they need to read the rest? Or do they want to?

A great opening paragraph will likely entice your reader to continue reading, as it demonstrates you have thought about them from the start. You’re sending a clear signal that you value their time, you are making this as easy as possible for them, but would love for them to continue reading.

My challenge to you. Once you have written your email or document, go back and rewrite the opening paragraph. Or better still, write the opening paragraph last. Your reader will thank you (and you will probably thank me).