The 7 Principles of Effective Communications Explained by Bill McGowan

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Last week we brought you a series of tips on pitching and media relations from author, veteran journalist and Clarity Media Group founder Bill McGowan, most recently known as media coach to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg (among many other celebrities and executives).

Today we bring you an extension of our conversation touching on the seven principles that form the basis of McGowan’s most recent book Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every Time.

In this piece, Bill explains how these principles apply to both the general art of communicating and the public relations practice–with a little help from one Donald Draper.

The Headline Principle: Start Strong

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How does this principle apply to pitches and email subject lines?

In addition to knowing what your point is and how to illustrate it, I’m trying to get people from proficient to polished by adding a third consideration: what are the first five words out of your mouth?

I don’t want them to be “Well, you know, I mean…”; that’s the verbal equivalent of running in place. I want the first five words to be content, not sound. When people start with crisp content in a concise, declarative statement, it lends so much more to the idea of executive presence and polish without being overly formal.

In terms of email, your subject line should almost be a tease; it should raise a slight question to encourage them to read your message rather than making an explanatory statement.

The Scorsese Principle: Think Visually

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How does this principal apply to content? (Example: Tesla’s recent GIF-filled press release)

Stories are 6,000 times more memorable than facts. If you want your content to be ‘sticky’ and more conducive to sharing, ‘visual storytelling’ is a crucial strategy—whether you actually include video or you just have the gift of being a storyteller who can draw an image in the reader’s mind.

In the case of a story like Tesla’s, you start the release by writing, ‘the 2,000-pound camera placed on its end looked like a mangled piece of iron’. You describe it and make people curious as opposed to writing ‘Today Tesla announced that they are replacing a shield on…’

There’s a subtle art to that.

The Pasta Sauce Principle: Boil Things Down to Their Essence

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How does this principle apply to writing and speaking?

We all have a tendency to over-stuff our sentences, but when you’re not telling your own story, brevity is preferable.

I go back and cut everything I write by about 25%. It’s a matter of getting into the mindset of ‘Am I employing the absolute greatest economy of words here’? Even after writing for TV for 20 years, I go back to every email I write and figure out a way to remove 20 words. Crispness and efficiency affect how your communication is received, and it’s incredibly rewarding when the person on the other end comes away with the impression that you’re not wasting a second of their time; that’s close to being heroic.

The same holds true in a meeting: if you can end that 45-minute meeting after 35 minutes and give people 10 minutes of their day back, that’s the greatest gift you could possibly give them.

Isn’t there an inherent challenge in combining this principle with the Scorsese principle?

That’s the greatest source of skepticism among my colleagues, who think that being anecdotal and being concise are mutually exclusive. They’re not.

The major points: know what the punch line or the payoff or the reveal of the story is. You have to read the room and know when you’re reaching the limit of engagement. If you’re pushing your luck, you have to bring the finish line close. You can’t rush through your story, but it has to be collapsible to some extent.