A vintage-style cartoon of a man holding a megaphone.

As an educator, I’ve always spent a lot of time observing and researching the best ways to help people learn. But working specifically with business people to improve their communication skills is a second career for me. So, it’s taken some time to distill my thoughts on the best way to facilitate that process. In a way it’s been a bit like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, which says that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in one’s field.

I can’t say that I’ve been counting the hours, but I can tell you this: Years of research and observation have led me to the conclusion that there are three keys to capturing an audience’s attention. I think of them as the “three P’s”. If you focus on the “three P’s” when creating any kind of business communication, be it oral or written, you’ll find that they can make the difference between having your message heard — or not.

Of course, before you even embrace the “three P’s” you have to make certain that you know your target audience. No matter how powerful, persuasive, and precise you are, you still need to know to whom you are talking or writing. Once that is established, then you can move on to my “three P’s” blueprint

1. Be Powerful

Being powerful in business communications means you are able to hold the interest of others. The best way to do that is by choosing words that grab attention and evoke a response. For example, you could say: “Go to our website for more.” But it would be more powerful to say: “Our website has all the tools you need to get started.” Why? Because you are assuring your audience that if they go to your website they will find what they need to change and to grow. This is far more appealing than simply being told to click on a link. Also, remember to use plain language to ensure clarity. After all, business communication is not literature. It is about conveying messages simply and directly.

2. Be Persuasive

Being persuasive means making a connection with your reader or listener. To do so you have to be, at least, a little personal. I’m sure you’ve been at presentations where the presenter read, in a monotone voice, whatever was on the page, in front of him or her. Doing so wouldn’t persuade your best friend, let alone a businessperson. On the other hand, when a presenter conveys a message by telling a good story, I am sure you’re aware how captivating it can be. Of course, part of being persuasive also comes down to word choice: words that appeal to the senses or evoke an image are words that will capture an audience’s attention.

2. Be Precise

Nothing makes people’s eyes glaze over faster than listening to (or reading) vague ramblings. So, a big part of connecting with a business audience is about precision. Use short sentences that aren’t weighted down with jargon or “corporate speech.” Strive to use language that conveys your essential meaning. In other words, be ruthless! Eliminate what is unnecessary.

As Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. It’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.Truer words were never spoken.


What are some of your favourite strategies/techniques for appealing to your audience and grabbing their attention? Contact us at The Language Lab. We’ll share them on Twitter, and Facebook.

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