The Time I Learned to Tell and Sell at the Same Time


Several editor-in-chief jobs ago, I had the most useful media training of my professional life. I had done dozens of morning television talk show appearances for magazines over the years to promote stories that my teams of journalists had researched and rigorously fact checked. But the head of corporate communications for my publishing company had budgeted money for all the top editors to get next-level media training. 

In my years promoting stories, I had always shown up prepared, having memorized the content to be discussed and practicing my talking points so many times that no matter how nervous I got, the correct words would come out of my mouth.  

Besides, if I didn’t have to work hard to pull out the facts, I could concentrate on my energy and delivery. Morning show producers knew I was a reliable guest, that I would deliver credible, interesting information with a relaxed and polished persona. 

I was also busy busy busy — and perhaps too confident for my own good. I wasn’t sure how much more a media trainer had to teach me. I signed up for the session having no idea my approach to talking on TV was about to change forever.  

That’s when I learned about “attention sentences.” Instead of memorizing the content as it had been written in the magazine – instead of memorizing full sentences period – think about the mind of this audience, this television viewer. “The Today Show” or “Good Morning America” viewer wasn’t reliably hanging on my every word.  

Probably she was also making her coffee, curling her hair, packing her kids up for school. It was pointed out to me that my remarks could quickly fade to mere background noise — especially if it was a few minutes into the segment.  

The guidance was this: once or twice, ramp up to your main point with a short, quick phrase that lassoes the viewer’s attention back to your voice.   

A sentence in my magazine might read like this: “Walking 30 minutes a day lowers your risk of heart disease by 70%.” But what if I say it on television like this: “We know walking is good for you, but we were surprised to learn how good. Doing it just 30 minutes a day…..” 

“We were surprised to learn how good” is the attention sentence. 

Similarly: “The new ski jacket by Burton retails for $3,000, but it’s worth every penny because of the technology built into the garment, which includes Bluetooth in the hood, hand warming mittens and a water repellent Gore tech.” Tuck in this ramp-up sentence to break up your points: “Burton’s new coat warms hands and repels snow unlike anything else out there. But here’s the ingenious part: these Bluetooth earphones sewn into the hood.” 

“Here’s the ingenious part” is, of course, the attention sentence. 

These phrases work to consciously and even subconsciously shift the viewer’s attention back to what you’re saying, making sure it’s where you want it when you make your big point. 

By tapping into the broader communications expertise at my company, I learned how to share a story while always earning the audience’s attention. It was a tactic that was unique to this medium, that made me a better television show guest, and that I never would have learned working alone in my editorial silo.  

After only a few months of rethinking my talking points in this way, my segments rated more highly with viewers and I felt better knowing that even more people retained the information my team and I had worked so hard to develop.  

Selling while telling is  just one of many valuable tactics I have learned from my marketing and corporate communications peers.  

Join NYWICI for “Building Bridges: Cultivating Connections in Communications” on Thursday, Nov. 9 at the IBM Office, 590 Madison Ave., New York City. This event is part of Communications Week. Register now

Written by Liz Vaccariello, writer, editor, consultant and NYWICI member.


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