Want to know with confidence that your elevator pitch will land? Would clarity and persuasion help you attract more clients, investors, mentors and sales? To maximize success in conversation, ensure you are following Grice’s maxims.
Twentieth-century British philosopher Paul Grice shifted the way we think about semantics and language. His maxims for conversation are part of his work on the cooperative principle, which states that when people engage with one another there are unspoken assumptions around how the conversation will unfold. Research tells us that we grasp the nuances of Grice’s maxims from an early age; a 2015 study found that children as young as six years old could distinguish the presence or absence of all of the maxims when listening to someone speak.
Translation: When decision-makers listen to you, they are already filtering your words through these four maxims, and if you step out-of-bounds on one or more of them, you’ll have a hard time winning over your listener. Clarity is critical, particularly in high-stakes conversations like an investor pitch, and you don’t want all your hard work to go down the drain because your vision is too difficult to follow when you talk about it.
As a ghostwriter and copywriter who teaches entrepreneurs to write faster, I’ve seen firsthand how following a framework can multiply an entrepreneur’s financial results. Let’s dig into each of Grice’s four maxims in more detail and learn how you can use them to capture anyone’s attention on command.
1. Say what is needed and nothing more
The maxim of quantity states that excess information will ultimately clutter your story or position. Ever check out of a conversation because the person talking keeps going off on tangents? Gatekeepers will do the same to you if you overstuff them with detail; give me whatever context I need to really understand the situation and nothing more.
This is why you should be sharpening your elevator pitch all the time. A pitch forces you to blend storytelling with value and land your point in a succinct way. In my work assisting entrepreneurs with messaging, the elevator pitch is often the most challenging type of communication for a professional because it requires restraint and precision.
A good rule of thumb for editing is to ask yourself “So what?” at the end of each sentence or story detail. If your language doesn’t actually propel your message forward, leave it out.
2. Back up what you say
If your listener has to spend precious moments wondering whether the words you speak are true, their attention is being diverted from your message. Grice’s maxim of quality has two components: Tell the truth, and back up what you say with evidence, preferably scientific in nature.
In a world of misinformation and content overload, science, statistics and other proven examples can help you reinforce a position. But as data editor Mona Chalabi mentioned in a 2018 NPR interview, listeners can actually feel alienated by statistics if they don’t have sufficient context.
According to this maxim, the natural disposition of a listener is to corroborate your argument in some way; anticipate this skepticism and you’ll do a better job holding someone’s rapt attention.