I'm working on a communications strategy for a local non-profit.  Doing this has reminded me of the importance and enduring usefulness of the "three key questions", questions I learned from Joan Ethier of Ethier Associates years ago, when she first asked me to assist her with presentations training for her many clients, and questions I have used over and over again, ever since.  These three key questions work for job application cover letters, political speeches, grant applications, marriage proposals, television interviews -- any communication challenge you can imagine.

Here they are:

  • What is my message?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What are their interests?

They sound so simple!  But look and listen, and see how frequently they are ignored by the people and corporations around you.  Paying attention to them will make you a more effective communicator.

What is my message?:  This question is often restated as "have an elevator speech" or "if you can't state it simply, you don't really know it yet".  Know what you want your audience to know, and keep saying "why do I want them to know that?" until you're sure you're at the root of the matter.

Who is my audience?:  Picture those people or that person as you plan, write, or speak.

What are their interests?:  This is the one most often ignored.  How often have you read a job application that tells you why the applicant would like to have the job, without telling how the applicant can make your business better?  How about the grant application that tells you how much the project needs money, without telling you how it will further the goals of the grant-giver?  Think about your audience and what they hope for, or what they're trying to protect, or what they're afraid of.  Then write or speak to those interests.

Three key questions, so simple and yet so powerful.  Thanks, Joan -- I still try to use them every time I communicate.


Recently, I spent an evening at town hall with some other folks who have been around town for a while.  Our goal was to label photos from the earliest days of Banff's incorporation.  There were many shots of groups of people celebrating, giving plaques to each other, being sworn in, and so on.  Many of the people in the photos have moved to other places, and some have passed away.  We felt it was important to capture the names now, so that the pictures can go to the archives with as much information attached as possible.  In 2090, when the town celebrates its centennial, people will want to know who was there at the beginning.

Looking at those photos underlined a couple of things for me.

First, that when people tell you that you look "just the same as ever", they are being kind, but not entirely truthful!

Second, that we should all pause from time to time to remember the heady excitement of becoming a self-governing municipality and having, at last, our own elected town council.  These days, one sometimes hears people say that "council doesn't listen to the people".  Let's stop and remember that we are so lucky to have councillors, that they are our friends and neighbours, that just because they didn't agree doesn't mean they didn't listen.  Democracy is a messy thing, and it's easy to criticize those whose job it is to represent us.  It's better to offer constructive input, and to offer it calmly and courteously.

As I've mentioned in a past blog post, last fall, I was contracted to facilitate a couple of workshops attended by the people working on the Area Structure Plan (ASP) for Calgary Rangeview. 

 Rangeview will be a new area of south Calgary, covering almost 2,000 acres near the Seton Hospital complex.  Just to put that in perspective, the entire area of the town I live in is 1600 acres.  Planning for Rangeview is complex, with several landowners/developers, multiple key stakeholders such as school boards, environmental, social and economic considerations, and, to top it all off, the project is a pilot for a new, streamlined, faster process that Calgary City Council is trying out.

Last fall, the workshops I facilitated were developing concepts for how the area could be laid out.  At that time, I was hired by the planning company that is working with the landowners/developers.  Much more recently, in June, I was hired by the City to help with a process and facilitate a meeting to iron out some points in the actual draft of the ASP.

Which brings me to the point of the title of this post.  The process that Calgary is working on is not only intended to be faster and more streamlined, it is also intended to be more collaborative.  The idea is that the landowners/developers, the city planners, affected city departments and the stakeholders bring their issues, concerns and solutions to the table constantly, working together from the earliest conceptual stages right through to the wording of the document that will go to senior management and the Planning Commission.  All the people connected with Rangeview are working to create an exemplary community - walkable, transit-oriented, with sunlight, views, accessible green space, nearby jobs and neighbourhood shops and schools.  In the course of working on this plan, they have also created a smaller but very important community -- a team of talented people from all sides of the project who really hear each other's differing comments and work honestly and transparently to find the right solutions.  Getting to work with them in the fall and now in June has let me see how their sense of community has grown.  I love my job!

You can read about the Rangeview project at this link:




I’ve been volunteering with the Community Housing Strategy committee for about a year now.  We started by agreeing on guiding principles, then moved on to interviewing people who run successful housing initiatives across the west.  Using what we learned, we came up with a draft vision and some ideas for ways that Banff could respond to the recommendations of the Housing Needs Study.

We turned all this into an “interim document” to let everyone know the directions we’re thinking of including in the Housing Strategy.  This document is available right now for public feedback at:


Housing is such an important issue for all Banffites.  I hope you will take the time to read the document (it’s relatively short) and provide your feedback online.

I've recently returned from facilitating community conversation events in Fruitvale, Grand Forks and Cranbrook, on a contract with the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments. 

This has been a challenging project, as I was involved in the organization and promotion of the events as well as in the presentation.  Fortunately, I asked as part of my contract to be connected with a Local Expert in each community -- someone who could answer my questions about the community, handle local logistics, be there on the night, and generally be my point person.  These three wonderful women were enthusiastic and effective, and the project would not be possible without them.

When you haven't been there for a while, you forget how stunningly beautiful this part of B.C. is.  And, of course, they were already showing signs of spring, which were sadly lacking in Banff in early March.  The only thing better than the spring weather was the enthusiastic and collaborative participation of the people who came out for the evenings.  I don't often get the comment "the meeting should have been longer" on evaluation forms, but I did in these three communities!

The questions they were working on revolved around the interests of their communities in this, a municipal election year.  So we explored what the "hot topic" issues are in each community, what facts one would need to know to have an informed discussion about those issues, and what we can do to encourage people to engage in the election, as candidates, as informed members of the public, and as voters.  I'm just working on the written report now, but the councillors in attendance were already talking about how they could implement some of the great ideas they heard around citizen engagement.

I'm looking forward to presenting the final report from this project at the AKBLG annual general meeting in Creston in early April.  We'll be talking about the answers that came from participants, and also about the organization, promotion and session design and what tweaks should be made if this is to be extended to other communities in the region.