The 5 Ws and H Guide to Communicating Virtually Anything

Posted by David Grossman on Mon,Apr 01, 2019

5 w's - who what when where why how

Ask any journalist and they can tell you about the 5 Ws and an H. Any solid news story covers those six basic ingredients. The same is true for communicating inside an organization, especially as it relates to sharing a compelling vision or guiding decisions about the future.

Want to ensure you don’t forget a critical detail in your communications? Think 5 Ws and an H to ensure you're capturing important perspective, sharing the all-important context, and making it relevant for your audience. 

Why

Thinking has evolved on where to begin with the 5 Ws and an H. Among the latest ideas is one from noted management consultant Simon Sinek which is to begin with why as it tends to reach an emotional chord with audiences that can inspire the actions you desire. He suggests that the most forward thinking organizations start with the conceptual and go to the specific. So, particularly when communicating about vision, values, broad concepts, start with the why.

Ask:

  • Why is it the right decision?
  • Why now?
  • Why is it important?

What

Feeling inspired, adult learners have a strong desire to know more about the what. When your messages are more concrete and process oriented, you might even consider beginning with the what.

In either case, this “w” serves as the foundation on which your information is built and can set a strong roadmap to guide your actions.

Ask:

  • What’s the decision?
  • What does it mean?
  • What should I know?
  • What’s in it for me?

Who

The who sometimes seems simple. But, rather than taking broad strokes to describe all those involved and your stakeholders with phrases like “leaders” or “all employees,” think about the breakdown of the larger groups as you pose your questions. For example, your messages to hourly employees or those working virtually would likely be different than mid-level managers. And, be mindful to think cross functionally and avoid department silos.

Ask:

  • Who made the decision?
  • Who’s in charge?
  • Who does it impact?

Where

Like the who, the where needs a thoughtful, detailed analysis for your efforts to be most successful. This is particularly true for large multinational organizations when the where might be quite variable. The important role technology can play in facilitating communications across organizations also needs to be a part of your exploration of the where.

Ask:

  • Where is this decision coming from?
  • Where/what locations will it affect?
  • Where can I get more information?

When

A driver of both deadlines in a communications plan and how to effectively cascade your messages, the when can give you a sense of direction and sometimes urgency. The when is sometimes influenced by competing factors; stay attuned to conflicting priorities and be ready to “push back” if necessary when the impact of your communications efforts could be diminished by unrealistic timelines.

Ask:

  • When is this happening?

How

It may be last on this list, but the how should hardly be considered the least. The how is usually the “work horse” of your planning team and guides your project planning with tasks and tactics. It’s also the place where discussion and even debate of ideas should be plentiful.

Ask:

  • How was the decision made?
  • How will it be implemented?
  • How will communications flow internally and externally?
  • How does it impact me?

Which W or H do you most often forget to include when you communicate? Download this free two-page tool—The 5 Ws and an H—to help guide you.

—David Grossman

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Tags: Communication Skills

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