My professor at UC Berkeley, former P&G Marketing Director Bill Pearce, introduced me to the one-pager memo format in one of my MBA classes.
The art and science of writing one-pagers
Each week, Bill made us write a different product development concept using the one-pager structure. To me, this sometimes ended in long nights tweaking my writing over and over again to make both the idea and its communication work.
You can find a great explanation of the format and how it works in this blog post by Vandwerk. It basically follows this structure:
In the end it was worth it - I now live and breathe the one-pager. And I learned along the way that it was not so much about the one-pager format as about the principles it stands for. These principles included:
1. Be clear on idea, reasoning, and structure before you start.
This part has always taken me the most time. I tend to over-research and over-brainstorm any issue I write about. While I hope this typically ensures that I don’t miss a point it also creates a lot of content.
Organizing this content usually took me a lot of time. Breaking the reasoning down into 3 key arguments was by far the most difficult step in the process.
Sometimes, I would try to fit my reasoning into one structure and realize during the writing process that there was a much better way to do it. Of course, I’d go back and do it again.
2. Use data if it helps your point, but make it brief.
This one was particularly challenging for me. In management consulting, I’ve been told for years that including lots of data was the most important part of presentation decks.
Using data very selectively - and even excluding “good data” simply because it made the paragraph too long - were new to me.
I have to admit, it really pushed me to select the most insightful data points and took a lot of reading and interpretation work off the reader.
3. Write short and concise.
Using fewer words to make the text fit the format was often a tedious exercise. After all, everything had to fit on just one page.
At the same time, It made me realize that my writing was overcomplicated and lengthy. It made me start writing emails in a different way.
Ultimately, it inspired me to take copywriting courses later on. Something, I had never considered with my background in consulting. We had always been required to write short and to the point action titles.
How the one-pager helped me out in many other ways
After fulling “owning” the one-pager principles through Bill’s class exercise drills, I started to use it in surprising other ways.
It not only helped me to write better concepts for my MBA school work or project proposals, I started using it all across my communication.
Yes, I started to design my speeches following the structure and principles of the one-pager. As a student instructor in a class on communication, storytelling, and leadership I had plenty of opportunities to try this one out.
And naturally, I found that the structure has a lot in common with the typical drama. One iteration I sometimes made was to leave out the executive summary - if the speech was short enough anyways. I even started using it for comments on the fly.
2. Presentation decks
For slide decks, the one-pager structure works brilliantly. For shorter decks, I made one slide per part of the one-pager. For longer decks, I cut the deck in chapters following the one-pager structure.
For product presentations, the recommendation would describe the product idea. In the rationale section, I would give 3 insights about the market-product fit, competition, and required resources. Or I would deep-dive into an analyzes of the business model, consumer, and market for a more strategic deck.
Of course, I don’t write full page emails. But I’m following the one-pager structure: The subject line is my executive summary.
Background the first sentence that ideally catches up on an earlier conversation with the recipient. The recommendation is my second sentence. Rationale is the main piece of my email. My email closes with a call-to-action - my interpretation of the next steps. In the end, this framework ensures that my email is short and to the point.
Take-away: Start using the P&G One-Pager memo structure yourself
For me, the value of the one-pager approach is in both in the structure and the principles it pushes a writer to go through. It’s simply become my go-to communication framework.
Former P&G global marketing officer Jim Stengel still uses the one-pager. Sounds like he agrees with me the what matters about the one-pager is “not really the one-page memo, but the structure of the one-page memo. I still find today I think that way”.
How do you structure your communication? Which principles do you use? Are you also using the one-pager format? For which purposes do you use it?