In the consulting industry, management consultants are expected to clearly and concisely synthesize raw data and offer actionable insights. Management consultants typically create PowerPoint presentation decks to organize analysis and present their recommendations to the client. However, sometimes management consultants are also tasked with writing business memos, which serve as long-form writing and detailed narratives in conjunction with the PowerPoint presentation.
Below are four guiding principles that will allow you to improve your skills in constructing business memos.
1. Structure chronologically
While starting with the conclusion is a great approach when delivering a presentation, it does not work with writing memos. With presentations, people are anxious to jump to the central idea or the crux of the presentation, but with memos, people take the time in understanding the breadth and the depth of the subject matter, and therefore, presenting information chronologically is the best approach.
Start with the introduction, followed by the problem statement and analysis, and end with recommendations and a conclusion. You could begin with an abstract or a summary to give your reader a blueprint of how the memo is organized, but do not abruptly start your memo with the conclusion.
2. Acronyms, jargons, buzzwords … use sporadically, if you must
Often, we hide our lack of understanding or knowledge about subjects by using industry jargon or buzzwords. Incidentally, management consultants have been accused of using buzzwords on numerous occasions. The secret to making sure that we truly understand something is by breaking the idea into simple words. Doing so requires stripping out the complexity in the pursuit of simplicity. The Mutually Exclusive Collectively Exhaustive (MECE) framework is an elegant method of breaking ideas into their simplest form.
Try to avoid using jargon and buzzwords as much as possible. There is nothing particularly wrong with using acronyms or abbreviations, but if you use them too often, it can be distracting to the reader. Also, make sure to spell out the acronym or the abbreviation the first time you use it in the memo. If you happen to be using several different acronyms and abbreviations in your memo, it is good practice to include an appendix page that summarizes all the acronyms and abbreviations with their respective definitions.
3. Anticipate questions and try to answer them in the memo
When presenting using PowerPoint slides, you are responsible for building client engagement and have active dialogues back and forth. If clients have questions during your presentation, they will also likely interrupt your presentation to ask questions. Delivering a business memo, however, requires significantly less client engagement. You would likely email the memo to your client or print it and leave it in your client’s office. Your clients would likely read your memo in your absence. And as they are reading it, they will likely have follow-up questions or clarifications. Anticipate what those questions could be, and try to answer them in the memo. This will not only reduce the number of iterations your memo goes through but will also make your client appreciate the clarity of thought that you put into your writing.
4. (Almost) never finish a memo and send it right away to your client
Sometimes you can be so deep in your writing that even randomly constructed ideas seem logical and readable. And that’s why it is important to take a break from your finished memo. When you think you have finished the writing and your memo is ready for submission, take a break and give it a rest. Revisit it later (perhaps after a nap or a good night’s sleep) and read it out loud for readability to see whether all the pieces of the memo still fit cohesively.
If you’re pressed for time and have no choice but to submit your memo right away because the client is asking for it, of course go ahead and send it. But if you can, try to manage your time and client expectations so you don’t have to submit a memo immediately after you write it.
Recipient of the Presidential Award from The White House, Vibhu Sinha is an intrapreneurial and bottom-line driven senior management professional with experience in leadership roles across banking and capital markets. He has advised institutional clients on corporate strategy, idea generation and pitching, financial planning and analysis, M&A, investor relations, and ESG. Vibhu developed his acumen in Behavioral Psychology at Harvard University as part of a master's degree program. He also earned an M.B.A. from UCLA Anderson.
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