W5 Form: Your Drawing Board for Relevant, Mutually-Rewarding Communications

Sparkly W

“What did we go back to before there were drawing boards?” – George Carlin

Several years ago, we were sharing our favorite quotes at a salon I hosted at the National Press Club in Washington DC.  

Journalist Eleanor Clift stood up and said, “My favorite quote is, ‘We’re all in a race to be relevant.”

I told her, “That’s a fantastic quote.  Who said that?”

She smiled and said, “I said that!”  

She’s right.  In today’s rush-rush world, if we’re not relevant, we’re irrelevant.

From now on, before you walk into an important meeting, presentation, pitch or negotiation, take five minutes to fill our your W5 form.

It’s your drawing board to ensure that what you’re saying is relevant so people decide you’re worth their valuable time, mind and dime.

WHAT is an upcoming situation/communication (internal or external) you want to prepare? Presentation? Staff meeting? Negotiation? Funding pitch? Client proposal? Website? Social Media campaign? Marketing Copy? Conference Call? Other?


WHO is your intended audience/decision-maker? What is their name, age, gender? What is their level of interest, familiarity, resistance? What are their problems? Needs? What is their mood? (Impatient? Skeptical? Eager?) Describe them so you can SEE them.


WHERE and WHEN will this take place? Business luncheon? Their office at 9 am? At a noisy restaurant? Half-empty hotel ballroom after lunch? Online anytime? Friday at 4:30 at company headquarters? An international Skype call and everyone’s in different time zones?


WHY will this be an ROI for your audience/decision-makers? Why will it be worthwhile for them to pay attention? What are the “makes & saves?” How will this make them money, save them time, make them healthier, wealthier, wiser, produce bottom-line benefits?


WHY will this be an ROI for you? What 3 possible outcomes would make this a tangible success for you, your project or business? What do you want them to stop, start, feel, do differently?  What measurable actions do you want them to take, when?


Want to hear a couple of my favorite success stories that show the importance of filling out a W5 Form?

A potential client reached out to discuss a pitch she was preparing for a well-known airline.  A popular fitness guru, she was proposing that they sponsor in-flight fitness videos and her new TV show on a travel channel.

I asked her, “Do you have a tagline or slogan yet?”

“Yes,” she told me.  “It’s, ‘Get out of your comfort zone.'”

Yikes.  I was on the airline’s website.  Guess what their slogan was?  Get IN Your Comfort Zone.

That would have been a disaster.  She could have spent a lot of time and money on this pitch – and taken herself out of the game in the first 60 seconds because what she was proposaing flew in the face of their brand positioning and messaging.

That’s one reason it’s worth doing your W5 homework before you approach your decision-makers.

Here’s another.

I was working with a department head of a Fortune 500 tech company based in Silicon Valley.  He was preparing for his annual all-hands meeting and had just showed me his finished power-point deck.

I asked him, “How do you want people to feel at the end of your presentation?”

Blink. Blink.  “Feel?”

“Yes.  This is your annual all-hands meeting where everyone comes together to review the previous year and preview the coming year.”

“Well, I guess I want them to feel … proud.  We not only hit all our numbers, we exceeded them.”

“Okay, what else?”

“Well,  I want them to feel  … excited.  We’ve got a big launch coming up in Q1 and I want them looking forward to it.”

“Got it.”  I paused, then asked. “Do you think you might want to put some pictures of people in your deck?”

Clearly, this had never occurred to him.  He was a tech guy.  His deck was filled with numbers, graphs and grids; but not one picture of a human being.

He was a quick study. The next day he asked the company photographer to go around and take pictures of the individuals who had put in the 60 hour weeks, put out the fires, and pulled off the miracles … and he integrated them into his deck.

He got in touch the next week to say, “Sam, you should have seen them.  People were going around cheering and high-fiving each other.  The mood and energy in the room was off the charts.”

Kudos.  That’s the power of putting yourself in the scene of your high-stakes situation beforehand, and planning how to make this a win for your audience and for you.

How about you?  What’s that important communication you’ve got coming up?  Invest the time in advance to fill out your W5 Form (excepted from my Got Your Attention? book) and you will dramatically increase the likelihood of it being a success – for all involved.


  • Want to Share Your Story/Suggestion With Sam Horn?

    Do you have a real-life example you'd like to share of how you deal with difficult people - without becoming one yourself? A story of how you've learned to think on your feet and handle challenging situations in the moment? I'd love to hear it, along with any other sensitive, stressful situations you suggest I include in my work on Talking on Eggshells? With your permission, we may share it with readers and audiences so they can benefit from your insights and lessons-learned.
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