To tell you the truth, I was somewhat surprised. The handwritten note from the Senior Vice President was brief and to the point. Recalling a simple list we used when giving him the introductory tour earlier that week.
“Thanks Joe. The Six ‘E’s will be something I’ll always remember,” he wrote.
Stakes are high when a potential funder takes that introductory tour of your mission. Or the representative from a company’s community affairs office makes a visit, ready to assess the possibility of a corporate grant. Or a mover and shaker in the city has allotted an hour out of her tightly run social calendar, to come out and see what the programs are all about.
In almost twenty years of hosting introductory tours, site visits and the such, I wish I could say that this aspect of development work got easier. In fact, it actually became more challenging. Perhaps we were more aware of what was hanging in the balance. With many peer organizations in the running for the same attention, same funding and same partnerships, we felt an increasing gravitas to say it and get it just right. To frame the mission in the best way possible. To make the most of that first impression.
We knew it had to click.
Evidently, it was clicking with that Senior Vice President. So it felt good to get his handwritten note. But what surprised me was what he said he would remember. It wasn’t the state-of-the-art campus and facilities, although he did make a comment or two about it during the tour. While our program participants engaged warmly with him and he reciprocated, he didn’t mention that either.
What he remembered was the simple list called The Six ‘E’s. That was his takeaway. He said he would remember this. Always.
We didn’t always have this simple list at the ready. Earlier versions of our go-to organizational overview, used primarily for development purposes, were rather multi-layered, complex and, quite frankly, a challenge to digest. Especially if you were hearing it for the first time. So much so that our Executive Director compared it to drinking from a fire hydrant. While our guests were doing their best to follow along and process the multiple story lines, data comparisons and facts shared in the overview, we knew there had to be a better way to relay and convey it all.
That’s when we came up with the simple list called The Six ‘E’s. Six words describing six of our mission's core philosophical concepts. All beginning with the letter ‘E’ and strung together in sequence. We began experimenting with The Six ‘E’s during the introductory tours and site visits.
First thing up, The Six ‘E’s were briefly mentioned in our official welcome, right there in the reception lobby: “Before we take the tour, we want to let you know there are six philosophical concepts that guide our mission. They all begin with the letter 'E' and you’ll see them in action today. One concept building upon the other, in sequence. The first one is…the second one is…etc.” It literally took only a couple of minutes to give this preamble. Then we were off and walking;
We referenced The Six ‘E’s throughout the tour. On purpose. And often. So much so that it would be impossible for a visitor to not remember each of the six philosophical concepts: “What you just saw was an example of the concept behind the second ‘E’. Now we’re going to show you how that second ‘E’ led us to develop the third 'E'." Emphasizing the philosophical concepts represented by each of the 'E's. Expounding on the application of each concept in our programs. Explaining how each concept was connected in sequence. All the way up through the sixth and final 'E';
At the end of the site visit we repeated, reiterated and reviewed the significance of the six philosophical concepts encapsulated in the simple list: “Thankfully, some of The Six ‘E’s are evident in the good work of our peers in this field. But maybe it’s the way our mission lines the six concepts up and puts each into practice that makes the difference for our program participants."
The more we used The Six ‘E’s, the more times our guests and visitors were mentioning the simple list in their follow-up notes, emails and phone visits with us. They were actually remembering and recalling the six philosophical concepts of our mission. In perfect sequence. It was all clicking.
Had we stumbled across the holy grail of communicating, in a simpler way, a set of concepts that were rather multi-layered, complex and challenging to digest? Certainly not. There were probably many other ways we could have achieved a similar end. But this is what we learned by using the simple list called The Six ‘E’s:
If you want someone to remember more than one concept, let’s say three or, as in our case, even six, then arrange them in a logical sequence. And instead of scattering your stories, data and facts randomly throughout the presentation, use them to support the sequence in an intentional way. Match each to a corresponding concept. Then utilize to illustrate and illuminate that concept. There’s a place for everything. There's a time to share it. Just determine the right place and right time;
Our list employed a form of alliteration, "the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words." It's just easier for a listener to follow along, knowing that all the words are alike in some way. We selected suitable words---all with the first letter 'E'---that best described the six philosophical concepts. To refine the list further, we replaced a few of those words with appropriate synonyms starting with 'E'. It took a few rounds, but we finally had the perfect alliterated list;
Do not assume a listener "gets it" the first and only time you share a concept. That’s why explicit and implicit repetition of The Six 'E's throughout the introductory tours and site visits was a powerful aid. Syncopated restatement reinforced the retention of the information.
All of this led to another observation. The Six ‘E’s gave our guests and visitors a road map to reference along the tour path. You could almost tell they were reassured, at ease, joining in and anticipating the next 'E' ahead. At the end of the tour, each seemed grateful and satisfied that they they had actually grasped the whole picture. Realizing the simple list of six words represented six core philosophical concepts. Concepts that informed the design of the state-of-the-art campus and facilities. Fostered the environment of engagement for our program participants. Instigated the plots behind those inspiring stories. Generated a body of impressive data and fascinating facts.
No surprise, then, that the Senior Vice President wrote, “The Six ‘E’s will be something I'll always remember."
He got it. The simple list. That clicked.