You Were Framed!

By Heather Baldwin

Great works of art are almost always framed. To communicate effectively, presentations should be framed as well. Framing does the same thing for presentations that it does for art: it encloses the conversation, stating what will and won’t be addressed and drawing attention to the most important aspects of the conversation. It also helps align audience members’ expectations of the presentation with those of the presenter. In her book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Clear Communication (Pearson Education, 2002), Kris Cole suggests presenters use these common framing statements.

Boundaries. Establish what you will and won’t be focusing on. For example: Today, we won’t be talking about your overall shipping procedures, which are excellent, but only about data entry accuracy.

History. Review the key events that have a bearing on the conversation: Jim, I’d like to talk to you about moving forward with a decision on our proposal. We have met three times this month and, last time, we agreed….

Purposes. Present your expectation of the meeting and check whether the other person’s expectations are similar or different: Chris, I’d like to present you with our analysis of your document storage challenges and how our solution can help you overcome those challenges while saving you money and increasing efficiency. How does that sound to you?

Process. Provide an overview of the types of information you would like to present and discuss, or outline how you would like the discussion to proceed: Kim, I’d like to review your monthly recurring budgeting tasks and, in particular, look at the expenditure areas of salaries and wages, rentals, consulting fees and advertising. Or: I suggest we begin with X, move on to Y and then discuss Z. How does that sound to you?

Problem. State the problem and summarize the data or facts as you understand them: Joe, I’d like to talk to you today about ordering procedures. Our records show the last three orders you placed with us were done at the last minute with special handling requests. These short lead times have raised your prices 20% and forced our staff to work through three weekends to meet your demands. I’d like to discuss any problems you might be having with our system and how we might help you avoid these last-minute orders in the future.

“Conversational frames help us get comfortable mentally with what is coming,” says Cole. “They help us hear the message better, think it through better and respond to it better.” But keep your frames short. Use one or two sentences, she adds, or your audience will become impatient for you to get down to business.