What does John Grisham know that can help us in business?

JohnGrisham-TheFirm He knows that it's critical to engage his audience immediately. His goal is to grab and thrust you into the action in the opening scene, providing momentum to be built on page after page. (Driving home yesterday, I heard him explain this exact point, in an NPR interview.)

While the best selling author's aims are to entertain, a "start strong, get to the point" imperative also applies to business communication of all types, even more so I believe.

When we open a book or sit down to watch a movie, we're planning to spend hours being diverted. No so when reading an email or report, participating in a meeting or training session, or listening to a conference speaker. Here, we expect to use our time efficiently toward the achievement of a goal: to gain information, frame and decide on a question or seek alignment with others.

But as we all know, our expectations are not always met. Too often we instead get:

  • "Long wind up" beginnings to meetings, training sessions and presentations that drag on before getting to the important meaty material;
  • Emails that you have to read two or three times to unearth the author's point or intent (all along wondering if he has one).

Don't make these mistakes next time you plan a meeting or write a memo. Think like Grisham. Make sure that you engage your audience right from the start, and get to the point, clearly and directly.

  • If your communication is about sharing information, say that, and then lay it out.
  • If you want a decision to be made in a meeting, make it clear up front that's your goal, lay out the choices, any required background (essential material only), make a recommendation and secure the decision.
  • If you're providing training, get right into it; no long preliminaries.

In all cases, remember that your audience are human beings, not machines. That means you need to engage their emotions to secure and hold their attention. At minimum, this requires explaining or giving evidence right up front as to why your topic matters to them, individually and as a team.

If at all possible, find a way to reinforce your key messages with a story, which has the dual and related benefits of engaging your audience's emotions and of being much more memorable than a dry recitation of facts.

Learn to communicate like Grisham and you'll be a more effective business person.

Posted in News.


  1. Solid advice, put very well. Thanks for reminding people about this, Rich. It will make meetings, presentations, and product demos much more interesting for both sides of the table.
    Too many presenters structure and deliver their presentation like pages from an encyclopedia. Delivering it like a Grisham novel is a great analogy and definitely the way to go if you want to make your message memorable.

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