The New Rules of Communication :: Rule #3 — “The Pie in the Face”



Ever get cranky because people don’t read your emails? What's wrong with people?

How can they be so rude?


Well, you’re in good company. I think we’ve all experienced the frustration of sending out something important only to have someone get on our case because they never heard about it.


I’ve am that guy. I’ve opened, scanned, and put aside an email without mentally logging into the information it contained. Mea culpa! I confess my sin. So, maybe this is my shot at getting the world to communicate with me in the way I’d prefer. Or, just maybe, this is a solution all of us need.


Somewhere at some point in my college or high school past, I remember being taught the journalistic principle: “Don’t bury the lead!” This is that same principle with a little more flair.


I was listening to a MasterClass on writing by James Patterson recently. Whether you are a fan of his novels or not, he is crazy prolific and successful as a writer. In the class, he championed the power of a “pie in the face" strategy. When people open a book—or an email, or a letter, or a video, or a podcast, or any piece of communication— you need to grab their attention immediately. So, hit them with a Pie in the Face. Bam.


Your pie in the face could be something about the urgency of your message. It could be an invitation to what you are offering. It could simply be a clear succinct summary of the main point of your communication. I’m not suggesting you do something dorky or silly like a literal pie in the face, but I am saying that your first task is to grab people’s attention with a compelling opener.

The point is, don’t bury the lead!

Don’t begin your email waxing on about the weather or a corn on the cob or some other anecdote about your dog and the Amazon delivery person. Those do nothing to drive people to read or listen more deeply. And, people want to absorb things quickly, so don't waste their time. (However, the paradox is that if you truly nab their attention early, you can actually add entertainment value to your message deeper in and people will enjoy it.)

The two-sentence rule: Imagine that your reader will only give you two sentences before they decide to read, scan, or trash your email. Tell them what this is about and make a promise about the value they will receive by paying attention to the entire message.

Think about my last few posts on these new rules of communication. As a general rule, people scroll and scan, and won’t continue listening or reading unless something grabs their attention right up front. Don’t fight it. Just give it to them.


Answer questions they are asking right up front:

  • What is this about?

  • Why is it important to me?

  • Why do I need to know it?

  • Why do I need to know it now?

  • How will it help me?

  • What critical takeaways should I expect?

  • Is it asking something of me?

  • Am I going to be accountable to do, remember, or respond to anything?


I know, there are times when you need to communicate something complicated with your employees, your congregation, your HOA members, etc. Those pieces of communication will be longer and require even greater degrees of attention than normal. When that is the case, put even greater effort into the way you craft your opening.

Three tips for an intro that connects:

  • Identify a need. Something they are feeling, frustrated by, worrying about, etc.

  • Clarity what's at stake and why it’s worth a coffee and a chunk of their time.

  • “Make a promise.” Tell them what you’re offering and how it will help.


If what you say after your opening pie in the face fails to hold their interest, you’ll lose your audience. It’s just too easy to click close and delete.

But, if you don’t capture their attention at the very beginning you’ll lose them before you even get started.

Photo Credit: Cathy Kaplan from FreeImages

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© 2020 by Gary Mayes