As professionals, we are all experts in our topical knowledge, which means that we always have lots to say about the science, or the messages we want to communicate to our audiences. But, there's problem. See, people can only absorb one thing at a time. And therefore, as communicators, we need to pick our one message very carefully. I learned this best from Chip and Dan Heath book, Made to Stick, which was a best seller back in the late 2000s. They looked at which messages stick with us, and which are forgotten. They talk about being simple. Not simple as in short or dumbed down, but simple as in finding the core, finding that key single idea, that most important thing to communicate. So, how do you do that? Well, they tell a story that I want to tell you, called the Commander's Intent. The Commander's Intent idea is a really simple idea that comes from the military, and the problems that military faces in making sure that their communications actually work. So, the problem is, when generals, and admirals, and officers write orders, by the time the orders arrive to wherever it is they need to be acted upon, sometimes the situation changes. The orders don't make sense, because the battlefield has shifted, or because the objectives have changed. Therefore, the officers need to write orders that are adaptable, that will be able to be used by the officers, by the soldiers in the field, in ways to accomplish the larger goals. So, how do you do that? Well, the solution is you train officers to write the commander's intent, which is a one sentence summary of the intent of the order. For example, if the order is to take, I must make this up, hill 300 to protect the flank of these tanks that are crossing a river, at the bridge, so that they can travel to the city and join their artillery, the hill is not the point. The bridge might get blown up, the artillery might leave the city and go someplace else. But the people receiving the orders know that they better be doing something to help the tanks get across the river, and meet up with the artillery wherever they're going. That clarity of the central message helps those officers know what they need to do, regardless of how the situation changes. The same idea applies to us as communicators. We, the communicators of science and health information, are the generals and the admirals in this story. We need to make sure that our audience learns our central message. So, the single most important thing you can do to be a more effective communicator is to know what your commander's intent is. So, what needs to happen? What do you want the audience to think, to feel, or to do immediately after hearing, or reading your message? What do you want them to remember, maybe weeks or months later? What do they need to take away from this communication in order for you to define it as a success? When you ask these questions, you get a sense as to what your commander's intent is. So, there's two steps to making your ideas memorable to your audience. Step one, find that core. Find the commander's intent. Step two, everything else. Seriously, if you know what your core is, that dictates everything else that you need to do in order to make your message clear, in order to make it memorable, in order to make it something that will impact your audience. So, what does finding the core mean, when we're trying to communicate scientific or health data? How does this play out in public health or science data communication situations? Let me explain. See, we often hear this phrase of, 'Well, I'm going to let the data speak for itself', data don't speak, we speak. So, we need to know what it is we are trying to communicate? What do you want people to understand from the data, the table, or the graphic that you're giving off? What is the core idea that you're trying to communicate? Notice, the core idea is different than the scientific result. It's different than the answer to the research question, or the finding of the study. It may be related to that, but sometimes the core ideas more about its application, or its generalizability, or the method. What is the core idea that you want to get across? Usually, that's related to this last question, why should your audience the care about whatever it is you're telling them? If you know that, then you can shape how you present it, so that they will care about it, and that's what we all want. This is time well spent. When you know what matters, everything else falls into place as a communicator. I'll give you a concrete example of this. When I, or my faculty colleagues work on big brands that maybe worth millions of dollars, we often spend months literally, months on one page. The first page, the specific aims page of the grant. Refining it, shaping it, making sure it captures the core idea of why this grant is worth funding, what it will accomplish, how it will change the world. Then we spend much less time on the rest of the grant, which might be 15 or 20 pages long. Why? Because if we get that specific aims page right, everything else becomes a whole lot more clear. Message prioritization is the key step to good communication. So, it's worth your time to work on it, even more than anything else you do to become a better communicator.