Career & Success

Class Takeaways — Essentials of Strategic Communication

Five lessons in five minutes: lecturer Matt Abrahams offers frameworks for successfully crafting your message.

December 16, 2022

| by Kelsey Doyle

How do I send my message clearly when put on the spot? How can I easily convey complex information? How do I manage my reputation? Whether you’re giving feedback or presenting in a meeting, communication is critical to success.

In his class Essentials of Strategic Communication, lecturer Matt Abrahams teaches the structures that can help you become a more effective and confident communicator. In this video, he shares five key takeaways from the class.

Full Transcript

Matt Abrahams: Communication is critical for our professional and our personal lives. I’m Matt Abrahams and I’m a lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business and the host of the GSB’s Think Fast, Talk Smart, the podcast. I am so excited today to share with you five key takeaways from my class, Essentials of Strategic Communication.

Focus on your audience needs

When it comes to our communication, many of us make a fundamental mistake. We start from the wrong place. We start by saying, “This is what I want to say,” rather than thinking about what our audience needs to hear. We need to do reconnaissance, reflection, and research to better understand our audience’s knowledge level, their attitudes, their resistance points, along with their expectations and motivations. By taking the time to really think about our audience, we can make sure that our messages resonate and are more likely to be remembered and acted upon.

Make your communication goal-driven

Most communication needs to be goal driven, especially strategic communication. To me, a goal has three parts: information, emotion and action. In other words, what do you want your audience to know? How do you want them to feel, and what do you want them to do? When you’re done with your communication? Having a clear goal allows you to focus your message on the needs of your audience, and it allows you to judge the success of your communication after the fact.

Use structured communication

Have you recently been victimized by somebody who just rambles on and on? Doesn’t feel so good, does it? We need to make sure that we structure our information so we make it easier for our audience to follow. In fact, our brains are wired for structured information. There are lots of structures and frameworks you can use to communicate. My favorite is three simple questions. “What? So what? And now what? “What” is the information that you’re conveying? It’s your idea, it’s your belief, it’s your product, your service, your offering. “So what” is about the relevance for your audience? What’s the value that your idea of product, service, or belief brings? And then finally, the, “Now what” that’s comes next. Maybe you’re taking questions, or showing a demonstration or setting up another meeting. By leveraging structure, you not only help your audience process your information more fluently, but it helps you to think about your message in a more concise and clear way.

Engage your audience

Attention is the most precious commodity we have in the world today. We are constantly bombarded with information. If we are to achieve our communication goal and help our audience with the content we’re giving, we must take the time to engage them. To me, engagement is just sustained attention. And there are three engagement techniques I’d like for you to consider using. The first is physical engagement, where you get your audience actually doing something; responding to a poll, typing into the chat, collaborating on a whiteboard. The second is cognitive engagement, getting people answering questions or considering an analogy. And the third is linguistic. Using the word, “You” or people’s names draws them in using terms like, “Picture this” or, “Imagine” or, “Think back to when” are ways that you can get your audience to visualize what you’re communicating. Using engagement techniques help enliven your communication and they help your audience to engage and remember.

Practice your confident delivery

Finally, even if we have the most audience-centric, goal directed, structured, and engaging communication, we can fall flat if our presence isn’t strong. Having an authentic, confident presence in your writing or speaking is critical to your communication success. If you’re presenting, record yourself and watch. If you’re writing, proofread what you’ve read and certainly ask others for feedback to help you. Communication is critical to your success. Using these takeaways can help you improve your communication. We must take the time to dedicate to this improvement through repetition, reflection and feedback. But doing so will help you get your points across.


I never had a problem talking, so I don’t think people who knew me would be surprised that I’m in a role where I’m doing a lot of speaking, but I thought I was going to be a doctor. And then I met calculus and we didn’t get along, and then I met chemistry and we got along even worse. So I found communication as my passion. So I finally found the subject that started with a C that worked for me.

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