Top and tail better

22nd March 2016

Imagine seeing someone who was all body.

I mean, literally, just a body. No head, no legs, nothing.

Without a head, they wouldn’t be able to engage with you.

Or with anything really.

And without legs, they wouldn’t be able to walk anywhere.

Communication is like that. They need head and legs. Or, as people usually call them, a top and tail:

  • Top – an engaging start. Your opening must draw people in. With written documents, that’s your title, subtitle and introduction. With verbal, it’s your first couple of sentences;
  • Tail – a directing end. Your close must direct people what to do next. Or they won’t do anything

Obvious, I know. At least, in theory. But in practice, things are often very different. So here’s how to apply top/tail to your communications:

With meetings…

• Ensure the meeting’s title makes it sound interesting. For example, replace “Sales Meeting” with “How we’ll smash our target next month”
• Then go through your agenda
• At the end, the last agenda item of every meeting should be ‘confirming next actions’. In this case, it might be “Everyone to share two new techniques they’ll be doing next month”

With presentations…

  • Put a benefit in the title and/or subtitle. So, replace “Q2 update” with “Three ways to guarantee a brilliant Q3”
  • Then your content
  • Your final slide should be clear on next steps – “To progress this, I’ll do A and B. Please can you do C and D”. (By the way, when your final slide says “Thank you”, the only thing your audience will say is “You’re welcome. Now leave me”).

For emails…

  • The title must persuade people to open the email. Trust me – “FYI” doesn’t. Much better is “Ensuring you get paid this month”
  • Then comes your email content
  • End with a final paragraph containing the call to action – “Please can you do (action) X by (date) Y. I’ll then do (action) Z”

Your top and tail are so essential – after all, without them, there’s zero engagement and zero action – start your preparation there. You’ll be surprised how many communications only need a top/tail. After all, once you’ve said “Making sure you get paid this month… Please reply and send me your figures for the month, and I’ll put them in the system for you” – well, there isn’t much else to say!

Action point

What’s your next communication? Is it a meeting, presentation, email? Spend ten seconds thinking how you’ll top/tail it. This won’t take you long. Just ten seconds. But it’ll be more likely to work when you do.

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