Context counts for a lot in communication

In Canada, we associate the Christmas season with long, cold nights and lots of snow. But if you're lucky enough to escape to warmer climes, the atmosphere can be quite different. That certainly was the case when I visited Australia late this fall. To my eyes, the Christmas decorations in stores and along city streets seemed out of context in the blaze of the summer sun.

Establishing context is also an important part of putting together a solid speech or presentation. Without a broader framework to refer to, the audience may have difficulty recognizing your key points or realizing their importance. 

Here are three ways to put your message in context:

1. Answer the question why? Why is what you propose important or urgent? It can be tempting to jump right into a discussion of the issue at stake and how to address it. Explaining 'why' is a big part of setting the scene. 

2. Paint the big picture rather than looking at your subject in isolation. Tell people how what you propose fits into larger programs, goals or strategic directions.

3. Relate your topic to matters that are important or familiar to the audience such as past successes or failures, shared values and your listeners' own aspirations.