Think, feel, do – shorter emails

I picked up this tip at home yesterday – thanks Mary. It’s a formula for getting to the point when writing emails. What do you want the person to think, what do you want them to feel and what do you want them to do. That’s it. You can save background context for another time for further down the email if you wish.

As an added challenge, see if you can get it down to three sentences.

Trust me, I feel your pain, I have a plan – tools for selling design

The final stage in the arc of design thinking workshops that I have been developing at Think Up with my colleague Nick Zienau is developing the ability to convince other people to adopt your design. In these workshops there are three areas we work on with participants: building trust with the client; three elements of content; and giving effective feedback.


Building trust with your client is absolutely essential if you are going to connivence them of anything. There are two things we concentrate on here. The first is being mindful about the first impressions we create. We all create first impressions, whether we like it or not, but we might not be aware of what those are. In our workshops we help people become more aware of the impressions that they create, and help them think about how to create the impressions they want with clients.

The second thing we concentrate on is developing trust through showing vulnerability. To show vulnerability to someone is to show that you trust them; if you can trust others then they are more likely to reciprocate. In our workshops we help participants explore how they can show their vulnerabilities, such as what they are worried about or where they feel their weaknesses are, and use this as the basis of building trust with others.

Together, managing first impressions and building reciprocal trust with our clients we call ‘gaining entry’.

Three-phase content

For many people, the starting point for any pitch is to work out what they want to say. Aristotle said that for a speaker to convince an audience of anything, then the speaker needs ethos, pathos and logos. Having ethos is to be trustworthy. Having pathos is having a shared sense of their feelings (in particularly their pain). Having logos is to have a logical argument. We can think of these as three phases we need to develop in our pitch.

In my experience, many engineers are most comfortable starting with the logos phase, the logic of the solution. The trust-building that we start the workshop with is an important element for developing the ethos phase, as is the reputation of the companies that participants work for. For many, the hardest phase is developing pathos. To develop good pathos you need good understanding of the client’s perspective, which is easiest to gain if you have a good relationship with them based on trust.

Giving and receiving honest non-judgemental feedback

We now have a plan for getting the content together, but how do we know if the pitch we have put together is any good? Here we rely on feedback from others. But for many, the idea of receiving feedback is dreadful – it isn’t all that fun for the feedback giver either. But when done well, feedback is an invaluable tool for improving our work, and it can be fulfilling for the person offering it too.

To make feedback work really well, we require the person giving the feedback to be really honest, but also non-judgemental. So they should say how something makes them feel, and why that might be, but not to judge it. A judgement is too final and puts the listener on the defensive, whereas talking about feelings offers the person listening the chance to find out more about why what they have done has elicited these feelings.

Equally, good feedback has requirements of the receiver too: they need to be open to receiving it, grateful, and not defensive. The last part is critical if the exchange is going to be useful. If the person receiving feedback can hold off on defending, and instead show interest in the other person’s views, then they can really deepen their understanding.

Taking these tools together, we can build an effective pitch for ideas that says,: ‘trust me, I feel your pain, and I have a plan’.

[This is an adapted version of a post I originally wrote for the Think Up website, posted on 1st November 2017].

Reflections on video selfie training

Think Up Selfie Movie Training

Yesterday at Think Up I ran a workshop training engineers in how to use selfie movies to tell communicate to people about engineering. The aim of the workshop was to inspire and give the participants the skills to use video as a medium to share interesting engineering stories. The attendees were a group of engineering students from UCL and Imperial and a couple of graduate engineers from Expedition Engineering.

The content I had to deliver was in two parts: the technical skills – talking to camera, framing the shot, etc; and storytelling – figuring out what to say.

In my experience people are nervous to talk to camera, so I kicked off the workshop with asking people to film a selfie introducing themselves and sharing two surprising facts about themselves. It turned out to be a great way to kick off the exercise. I think it worked because people had to confront their fears straight away. We used these examples as a context for talking about what makes a good selfie. I then showed them a selfie I had made that morning, and asked them what was good and bad about it (below).

We then moved on to storytelling. I had thought that the participants would find the storytelling easier than the technical material, but it was the contrary. I asked individuals to think of a subject that they are passionate about, and to find one particular intriguing aspect of that subject that could form the kernel of their story. That bit was mostly easy, the challenge was finding the language that helped weave a compelling yarn. In the end the way round this was for me to suggest linking phrases or expressions and to show them how they could be used, and then for the individuals to weave those phrases into their stories.

The impact was stark: once they had a compelling story to tell, and they knew how to say it, even the least confident sounded a lot more confident on camera.

In the end I saw some really quite moving videos being produced. As homework I asked the participants to polish their performances and upload a video to the Think Up Facebook page. I’ll have more to write on this depending on whether they do or don’t post anything!

There are some important things that I take away from delivering this workshop:-

  • This is another reminder that there is no substitute in learning for getting people to do. Forcing the participants to make a film straightaway was probably scary for most, but once they were ‘doing’ it was easier to talk about how to do it better. I had a similar experience in a communications workshop I ran last week on difficult conversations in engineering projects. We talked about the ideas, but it was only when I forced participants to role-play the scenarios (which they seemed reluctant to do at first) that the learning really seemed to sink in.
  • I haven’t previously appreciated the value of good storytelling, though many of the people I work with do. Perhaps because it is something I think I’m good at, I don’t recognise how other people find it a challenge. This is a theme that I would like to develop in more training for engineers.
  • This event was about confidence building, and I used a lot of the confidence building techniques I know from swing dance teaching – lots of applause for one-another’s efforts; keeping the momentum up and the tone positive – and it seemed to pay off.