The Art of Framing: 7 Leadership Tricks to Sell Your Story

As the year ends, many of us are firming up budgets for work, vacation plans for family, camps for kids, etc. Each of these exercises requires some level of leadership. You need to sell your budget internally. You need to build alignment with your significant other on the ideal location for summer vacation and you need to motivate your kids around that robotics camp (a 21st century trick for getting kids to summer school).

What do all of those actions have in common? You need to sell your story and “frame” your ideas.

Framing is about how you package and tell your story and it’s a serious leadership responsibility. As a leader, you are trying to drive change – motivating people, partners, organizations and countless others to act. More importantly, you are trying to get them to act on something before they may recognize the need to act. You are trying to build awareness and excitement about what could be.

Begin with a vision

Right now at work, most of our teams are planning their future, or at least the next 12 months of it. But as we plan the future and try to build excitement, how do we do it? Traditionally, it’s been done through numbers, spreadsheets, policy templates, planning meetings….and OMG stop!!! I can actually hear my energy dying a bit more with each of those words. Those boring, pointless and so-not-exciting words. Don’t get me wrong. I understand and agree we need goals and budgets, but we should not start with them. They should be the end result of something much bigger. We need to begin with a vision and a sense of purpose.

I have budgets and goals, but I start my planning with themes that center on what we are trying to achieve. The numbers and budgets tell us how (and if) we can afford it. Both are important, but usually only one gets done: the budget. And for most, that is usually an incremental planning exercise, not a dreaming exercise. Another way to look at it: budget planning is same-old process, same-old way, whereas a dreaming exercise is the very start of driving change. Potentially GREAT change.

At this time of year, we put our teams through these tasks and then we ask them to get excited, be optimistic, put their hearts into it. Really? As leaders, we cannot settle for doing this; we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We need to tap into the energy of our teams. Simply put, we need to frame the opportunity.

The art of framing

Framing is an art, not a science. You need to be willing to experiment and practice framing. Here are a few tricks to successfully frame your ideas:

  1. Know your audience. Remember the goal is to motivate and excite them, not show what you know. You want them to make this their story, a story they will be excited to tell others.
  2. Create themes. 3 to 5 people will not remember more than 3-5 themes. Without themes they will find it hard to understand and communicate your message
  3. Focus on hope, not fear. If you want people to be open and dream, you need to inspire hope. Fear triggers a fight-or-flight response and closes people off to thinking about what’s possible.
  4. Use emotion and passion. Think about words that carry energy. Think, talk and write with words that get others excited.
  5. Consider tone and cadence. When you frame your story live and in person, think about pace and tone. Walk and move as you speak, while looking at and connecting with the audience; it drives up the energy.
  6. Paint a picture. Make sure you have framed a picture that your team can see themselves in – a picture they would enjoy being a part of. A picture, not of numbers and budgets, but of people and purpose.
  7. Learn from each encounter. You will frame and deliver ideas countless times. Watch the reaction of the audience, engage with others during and after the presentation. Listen, learn and add more color to your canvas each time. The secret to successful framing is that it’s never quite complete. That’s what makes it so inclusive, energizing and believable.

I encourage all of you to give framing a real chance in 2017. Apply it to your business and personal plans. Maybe you are struggling with where to take your business in the future or maybe you just can’t decide where the family should vacation. Try approaching it with a new angle and employ the framing techniques to help you drive change.

I am focused on framing with my team and my family. And who knows? With any luck, my wife might really enjoy a trip to the Pro Bowl!