Chris Parker

The Power of Words

Influence and the Importance of Sequencing your Communications

The thirty-second workshop titled Influence and the Importance of Sequencing in Communication goes like this:

‘The order in which you sequence your communication determines the outcome you create. So if you want to achieve your desired end outcome as swiftly as possible, get the sequencing right.’

 A nearly eight hundred word blog post (like this one) would expand on that as follows:

  1. There is an inevitable gap between the person communicating and those they are communicating with.
  2. This is the Communication Gap. It is the psychological, emotional and experiential space that exists between all human beings.
  3. The Communication Gap is inevitable because we all see, hear, feel and think about things differently and because we can give different meanings to the same words and the same experiences, and express ourselves in our own, unique fashion. 
  4. We have to cross the Communication Gap successfully if we are to influence others as intended.
  5. The Communication Gap can only be crossed successfully by brilliant communication.
  6. Sequencing acts as the bridge upon which influence travels.
  7. Get the sequencing of your communications right and you have the best possible chance of creating the influence you seek.

Having said that – like that – let’s move away from the number sequencing we all take for granted because we tend to get it right without effort, and consider just how sequencing communication determines the outcome.

The first point to make is that whenever we communicate we always create a sequence. Sequencing in communication is inevitable. Well-structured, influential sequencing is not.

The second point relates to content. To discuss sequencing our communication presupposes content; that we have some thing to communicate. The sequence through which we present and share that thing determines not only the value and meaning people give to it, and the ease and speed with which they understand it, but also how they regard us.

Here are two very different examples that emphasise the importance of sequencing in communication. The first highlights, hilariously, just how quickly and disastrously both quality and intention are lost as soon as the sequencing is wrong. 

In 1971 British television viewers watched the comedian Eric Morecambe attempt to perform Grieg’s A minor Piano Concerto under the direction of the internationally acclaimed conductor André Previn. Instead of the expected piece, Morecambe repeatedly thumped out a childish melody. Infuriated, Previn finally pointed out to the would-be classical pianist that he was playing all the wrong notes. The comedian’s reply was a classic of its own kind. He said, I'm playing all the right notes. But not necessarily in the right order.’ And that, of course, was both the truth and the problem.

On Wednesday 19th March 2003 in a far more serious theatre – the theatre of war – Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins of the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment gave an acclaimed eve-of-battle speech to his troops in Kuwait.

Just what do you say to men hours before some of them will die and many of them will take the lives of other human beings? Well, as with all great and important communication, you share messages that are supported by facts that prove the truth of what you are saying, you use repetition to create emphasis and to ensure that the most important messages are remembered, and you sequence it all so that it flows and builds and stirs emotion, just as the very best music does.

Tim Collins knew this. His speech was one that will echo for centuries. He talked of humanity and history, of purpose and professionalism, of warfare and welfare. To rob Tim Collins’ speech of its influence and power, however, all you have to do is change the sequence in which he delivered it, to say all the right sentences but not necessarily in the right order.

 So, how do we as leaders ensure we get our sequencing right? By way of conclusion, here a few tips:

  1. Think of your communication as a story; know how you want to influence your audience – how you want them to feel - every step of the way.
  2. Start well; get your audience’s attention immediately.
  3. Know your content completely; create natural transitions so that each part flows into the next.
  4. Be clear about your key messages and how they relate to each other.
  5. Repeat these messages, using different language and supporting data as appropriate, throughout.
  6. End brilliantly; people remember endings.

When you do get the sequencing right your audience will often take it for granted, failing to be impressed by the skilful structuring and layering of your communication. It should come as no surprise, though. After all, great sequencing seems as obvious as 1,2,3.


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