47You have a million things to do at the office. You can’t give everything equal attention. So you select where you’re going to spend your mental energy.

Too often — when it comes to thinking about what we want to say or write — we wing it. And then we wonder why people don’t listen to us, read our emails, or do what we recommend.

The difference between success and failure is really about 15 minutes. Here’s how to spend it.

Ask Six Smart Questions

#1: Who are the different people/audiences involved? Chances are you’re trying to reach more than one person. Your supervisor? Coworkers? A potential client? The board of directors? List each one.

#2: What does each audience think of you and your company? Do they know you? If so, do they like and trust you? Do they see your company as different from competitors? The idea is to know if there are any pluses you can capitalize on or minuses you must overcome.

#3: What does each audience really want to know about you and your company? Become a method actor by putting yourself in each audience’s place. When we don’t talk about what people wish to hear, we give them an excuse to ignore us. As you create this list, you’ll likely see that more than one audience wants to hear the same thing.

#4: What do you really want each audience to know? While you wish to make sure each person’s or group’s needs are met, that doesn’t mean you need to do it at your expense. You have goals for this communication, and there are ideas you must share to reach these. Be clear on what you want people to know or remember.

#5: What’s the common ground between #3 and #4: the messages each audience needs to hear and you want to share? This is usually a pleasant surprise. It’s rare that there’s no intersection between what people want to know and you wish to tell them. Knowing where the overlap occurs helps you with the next question.

#6: What are the three most important messages? Three is a magic number. It’s easy to remember three messages for a meeting, call, Q&A or written communication. It’s also easy for your audiences to recall. Now that you know the key ideas, you can create proof points or strategies to support these. This can help preempt initial objections people might have.

Going through this process also helps you come off as the polished professional you want the world to see. You’ll never again show up and spew information no one cares about, or end up babbling because you were caught off guard.

And you can finally wipe that snarky smile off your high school classmate …