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Former Obama speechwriter: This is the one question you have to ask to be an effective communicator

David Litt with President Obama
Photo courtesy David Litt
David Litt with President Obama

Whether you are writing a presidential speech, sending a quick email to a colleague or getting your employees on board with a new initiative at work, the way you deliver your message can make or break the outcome.

David Litt, former speechwriter for President Barack Obama, says there should be one question you think about as you're writing that email, planning your presentation or strategizing the team meeting:

"All communication boils down to: What's the goal here?" says Litt, who landed his job as a speechwriter at the White House at 24 years old.

"Too often people get into a room, everyone's very eager, and they say, 'Okay, what do we say?' rather than, 'What do we hope to accomplish with what we're saying?'"

David Litt with President Obama and Keegan-Michael Key.
Photo courtesy David Litt
David Litt with President Obama and Keegan-Michael Key.

Litt tells CNBC that communication becomes messy and ineffective when the person writing or speaking doesn't have a clear sense of what he or she wants the result to be.

"Sometimes where you can lose the thread a little bit is when you don't quite know what the point is, when you don't know what you want the other person to do with the information you're about to give them," he says.

"That is the challenge that all of us face when you're trying to communicate, whether it's something very big or something very focused and small.

"We've all gotten e-mails that are too long or they don't really have a point and you don't know what someone wants from you," says Litt, who stepped down as Senior Presidential Speechwriter, to become head writer and producer for comedy website Funny or Die in January 2016. A memoir of his years coming of age in the White House, "Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years," is due out in September.

"The question all communication boils down to: What's the goal here?" -David Litt, former speechwriter for President Barack Obama

"I don't think that every email you need to spend the amount of time that you would spend on a Presidential speech," says Litt.

Your communication will be more effective if you understand "here is the way we want the audience to either change their opinion or change their behavior, and we know exactly what we want, and now I'm going to get it via in this ... e-mail or via memo or a tweet.

"There's all sorts of ways to communicate, but the basic idea of — we want someone to change their opinion or change the way that they act — that's pretty universal."

See also:

David Litt became a speechwriter for President Obama at 24—here's how he found the confidence to do it

Tim Ferriss' simple 3-step strategy for managing fear is his secret to business success

How skills learned in 'survival jobs' helped this SNL star make it big