Clarity is the quintessence of leadership.

In his March 12 address to fellow Singaporeans, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong updated everyone, for the second time in five weeks, on what to expect in the COVID-19 situation. He said he would “speak about three aspects of the issue: medical, economic and psychological”. And so he did.

Two months earlier, Lee had addressed Singapore’s administrators and leaders. “Tonight, I wish to speak on two related themes. First, building a deeper and more diverse public service leadership corps, to cope with our changing operating environment; and second, how the public service should work with the political leadership to deliver good government for Singapore,” he said.

Note the pattern.

Lee, a mathematician by training, is clearly systematic and focused in his communication. Before he speaks, he thinks through the why, who and what of his words. That is what we, at Harappa, call the PAM framework, or the clear identification of purpose, audience and the big idea behind our messaging.

Given that all communication, oral or written, is designed to generate some outcome (even if it’s a laugh at a joke we’ve cracked), it’s of paramount importance to know exactly why we are speaking. Understanding the audience and what exactly we will tell them comes next.

When Lee addressed the nation on TV, his tone was caring and conversational. He used everyday words and phrases as he asked citizens to work with him to keep Singapore safe. He spoke in three languages—English, Mandarin and Malay— catering to the three key linguistic constituencies of the island state. Earlier, while speaking to an educated audience of civil servants, his words and tone were more sophisticated.

This is a star communicator at work, one who understands that the right words are the “most powerful drug used by mankind”.

We may think that if we slog hard enough, we can advance in our careers. That fact is if we want to prosper, no matter what our line of work, we need to also master a critical skill that goes beyond our work ethic: we have to be able to communicate efficiently and effectively. We need the skill to create our personal brand, to express ideas persuasively and foster meaningful exchange with other people.

We have to be able to get our point across before our busy boss stops listening or our client’s eyes glaze over at watching yet another presentation. We need to be able to tell our stories in a way that replicates the way people process information: by first relaying the “so-what” or the main point, and then explaining why we are saying what we are.

This is called the Pyramid Principle, and it allows us to seize our audience’s attention by telling them a compelling story that’s easy to understand and remember because it is supported by logic and facts.

Prime Minister Lee has mastered the science. If we work on it, we can too.

Shampa Dhar-Kamath is a consultant at Harappa Education


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