Communicate Better with the Bookending Technique

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

How many times have you heard the statement "We need to be better at communication"? Communication comes up all the time as a key area for improvement in engagement surveys, retrospectives, and low-grade bonding over the proverbial water cooler. It is clear that in business, there is a large deficiency in communication. The results of poor communication could be wasted time, misalignment, confusion, and resentment. Today I'm going to share just one simple, immediately applicable technique you can use to improve your communication as a leader. It's called bookending. I've used this technique for years, and I frequently share it with clients in the coaching and workshops I do.

Bookending is simple

Bookending supports the body of your message on both ends like bookends do. These matching objects that bound a series of books on a shelf can drastically help us improve our communication.

Basically, you bookend your speech with a common element that is both memorable and relevant. You could use a quote, a question, a story, a joke or even a Powerpoint slide at the beginning and the end to tie it all together.

To make it simple, here's a structure you can use in your next speech:

  1. Tell them what you're going to tell them

  2. Tell them

  3. Tell them what you told them

As an example for this post, I'm going to tell you:

  • Bookending is simple

  • How and where to use Bookending

  • And how Bookending helps communication

How to use Bookending

For the opening "tell them what you're going to tell them", this is really just giving them the agenda of what you're going to talk about. For example, "Today I'm going to tell you three reasons why I believe this reorg will be successful." For "tell them", you get into the message or content. You don't have to structure your message in threes, but threes are easy for people to follow and helps with retention. For example, you could say "The first reason I believe this reorg will be successful is that we are...." For "tell them what you told them", this is just summarizing the key points. For example, "Today I told you the three reasons why I believe this reorg will be successful; they are...". And you just summarize the key points.

Where to use Bookending

In presentations. I used the Bookending technique to present to the UK National Customer Service Awards. My team at Rackspace was running in the B2B category. We ended up winning the B2B category and also the overall winners across all categories, which was an incredible achievement for the team and a huge uplift in morale and energy. Our team was fantastic and deserved the awards. At the same time, if we didn't communicate the team's story clearly and effectively, I don't believe we would have won. Bookending was one of the key techniques we used to tell our story.

You can also use Bookending for speaking at company meetings like town halls, in slide decks, and in emails.

How Bookending helps

This communication technique helps people pay attention because you are giving them a structure to follow. Without this, attention can easily wander. If people don't know where you're going, they can stop listening and wonder "how long is she going to talk about this point?" It also helps with stickiness. Especially bookending at the end, where you tell them what you told them. This will help them remember what you said and why it matters.

Bonus Communication Tips

  • Don't be on page nine of a one-page story.

  • The more you explain something, the less people trust you.

  • Don't use terms that your audience won't understand. You risk losing their attention.

So, how might you use Bookending in your communication?

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