Book Review: Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time Every Time

All of us are constantly called upon to speak in business and social situations, and a great deal can depend on how effective we are. It’s not just a formal speech or a panel presentation that can be so crucial; it can be a moment to speak up in a meeting or a surprise encounter with the boss.

Here, well-known media coach Bill McGowan gives his principles for effective oral communication, complete with anecdotes from his years of training the famous and the near-famous.  His suggestions are definitely worth listening to, and his stories are funny and memorable.

McGowan, a former television journalist who worked on “A Current Affair” among other shows before becoming a consultant, draws many of his strategies from the worlds of journalism and the media. Speak in headline form, don’t bury the lead, and above all, don’t be numbingly repetitive. Among the old-fashioned, conventional wisdoms that McGowan rejects is the idea of “first tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell it, then tell them what you told them.” As far as he’s concerned, that is two tellings too many.

He warns the reader strongly against using “industryspeak” in making any sort of presentation, especially in a business meeting.

“To kick the jargon habit, try this,” he writes. “Practice your next presentation out loud using the recording device on your smartphone. Then take the audio content and have it transcribed. You see all those red lines under words like efforting, choiceful, and incentivization. That’s a gentle reminder from your computer that you are using a made-up word. If it’s not real, you shouldn’t be using it.”

And yes, my computer put all three of those nonwords in red.

McGowan’s emphasis on being real goes beyond word choice. He says that genuine curiosity and sincerity are the secrets to being a good conversationalist. The important qualities, he says, are “attentiveness and enthusiasm.  . . .  It doesn’t mean that you have to create a new BFF. The trick is to listen for some nugget of information that inspires you to want to know more about a particular topic.

In addition to the common-sense advice that applies to nearly every business and social situation (even eulogies and best-man toasts), the book is worthwhile just for the anecdotes. McGowan tells one on himself: He was all set for his first meeting with top Facebook executives to land the company as a client – and found he was in the wrong city. How he got from San Francisco to Palo Alto, and what he did on the way is a good tale. He did get the client, by the way.

Next time you want to ask for a raise or make a five-minute talk, or just convince a co-worker that your approach to a marketing issue is the best one, just consult this book.

 

By Jonathan Groner, writing and public relations consultant for the May/June 2014 of the Capital Ideas Newsletter.

 

 

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