No matter what your business, it lives and dies by communications. Clear and convincing expression is the essence of marketing and sales, management, customer service, and even product design.

Unfortunately, there are too many worldly influences that push people to obfuscation, pomposity, verbosity, and irrelevance. Lose control of your communications, and you lose any connection and influence with your audience. That's a disaster, whether you're addressing customers, employees, investors, or business partners.

Luckily, there's a quick cure to the problem, and chances are that you learned it in grade school, only forgot it somewhere in the years since. It's the three-step approach to writing the classic five-paragraph essay: Make your point, support your point, and conclude.

Clearly make your point

The first paragraph of the essay is the same as the opening of your communications. In it, you want to catch the interest of the audience and frame the point you want to make. By being direct, you keep the audience's attention and start them thinking about the topic you want them to consider. It might be that you want to introduce a new product line to the company, convey the benefit of an offering to a customer, or suggest a proposal to a supplier or distributor. Although they are in one sense different types of communication, in essence they are only variations on a theme. Another way to phrase this is "tell 'em what you're about to tell 'em."

Support your point

People have heard the essence of what you wanted to say. Now comes the time to convince them. To do so, you make supporting statements. Depending on the audience, circumstances, and the nature of your point, those supporting statements could include mathematics, a recitation of facts, emotional appeals, or rhetorical flourishes. A business plan had better include information about markets and financial projections. A sales pitch needs links to the emotional reasons that people will buy. Instructing employees on a new procedure should likely have explanations of strategic, performance, regulatory, and other reasons it makes sense to embrace. In other words, you're always selling. This is where you "tell 'em what you said you would."

Close with conclusions

You've moved through laying out your initial point and providing the supporting detail. Now you need to tie it all together and show why your supporting evidence means that your initial point makes sense and that the audience should support it. Done right, you convince the people you're addressing, close the deal, and advance your business.

The reason grade schools teach the five-paragraph essay structure is because it represents a classic form of argument that works. Of course, the better you are at execution, the more convincing your point and the greater amount of support you will gain. But even if you're still working on the basic rhetorical skill, the simple step of following a working structure will improve your communications and, as a result, help build your business.

Published on: Oct 6, 2014