I used to believe that data and the laws of physics governed everything, even communication. Facts are facts, right? But empathy is just as important: good communication isn’t about the message sent; it’s about the one received. To send a message that will be received the way you intend, put yourself in the audience’s shoes.
That hack is relatively simple! I follow the Know Feel Do framework: appeal to the head with the know, appeal to the heart with the feel, and appeal to the hands with the do. Just like I gravitated toward “know”, many people default toward only one of the three. The key to success is intentionally using all three.
- Know is what you want people to understand after consuming your message. A good message tells the audience what, who, when, where, and how.
- Feel is the emotional impact you intend to provoke. If you want to inspire your audience, make them feel appreciated, build trust, or assuage fear, think about the feel.
- Do is the action your message should trigger. This is where other people can adopt your change or support your idea. It’s where you can move mountains.
The first time I used this model, I was having an exhausting day, followed by a long evening. Stuck in a crowded BCG conference room at 8pm, I wanted to go home after two days of iterating on the same draft content for a big presentation. That’s when BCG Senior Partner Jim Hemmerling asked: “has anyone done a Know Feel Do?”
Not a single person in that room felt like exploring a new framework, but Jim persisted. What did we want the audience to know after the meeting? Feel? Do? Our energy picked up as we debated. That unremarkable old draft fell by the wayside and we left just hours later with a work-product that made us all proud. When I saw the contrast between two days of wasted effort and a few hours of productive collaboration, I was sold on the Know Feel Do.
Hack #1: Nail a Keynote Address
The first time I depended on this framework on a big stage was when I delivered the keynote at Cisco Live in Berlin in 2016. To say I was terrified would be an understatement. I had one chance to convince employees, partners, customers, and analysts that Cisco had a unified, clear direction moving forward. I had one chance to inspire them to bet on Cisco. My Know Feel Do reminded me that I needed not just a convincing set of facts about security, connectivity, and Cisco technology, but also an emotionally resonant story.
The story I told—about a Cisco business partner that reinvented itself with Cisco technology, avoiding a near collapse—helped the audience walk in the partner’s shoes. The result? The highest-rated presentation in Cisco Live EMEAR history.
Hack #2: Prioritize the Important Conversations
You don’t need to deliver a career-defining message to use this framework. I use it for every meeting, from quarterly business reviews to 1:1s. Even a hastily assembled Know Feel Do can elevate a mundane meeting to a real discussion. What might have been a simple staff meeting becomes an animated debate about priorities and long-term team vision. What might have been a dry status update becomes a clear call to action garnering support from your peers. What might have been a simple introduction to a new executive becomes a deep conversation about career goals.
These are all important conversations. With the Know Feel Do, they’re much more effective.
Hack #3: Automate for the Future
Automation is a hot topic in technology. It’s easy to see the appeal: engineers who automate repetitive tasks help countless customers instead of serving them one-by-one. But these same engineers agonize over automating themselves out of a job.
Until my team feels safe, they are unlikely to make progress on the “do”: automating! That’s why I anticipate, acknowledge, and (most importantly) address their feelings—with data. Data about how automation will help, not harm their career. Data about staying relevant in the market with automation skills. And data about customer satisfaction and loyalty, which drives more work for all of us! Finally, those who do automate reap career benefits with recognition, rewards, and opportunities.
This isn’t unique to automation: leaders see strong emotional responses with every business transformation and organizational change. The Know Feel Do provides a simple reminder to address those feelings.
Whether your next communication is a keynote in ten weeks, a meeting in ten minutes, or your long-term business strategy, the Know Feel Do framework can help ensure your audience receives the message you want to send. Give it a try!