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McDonald's, Burritos, and Starbucks: Memorable Keys to Effective Communication

Updated on May 24, 2012

Effective Outgoing Communication

There have been many volumes by many experts explaining how to communicate effectively, but they all overcomplicate and cloud the point. All you really need to remember are three words: McDonald’s, burritos, and Starbucks.


Just for fun, sometime just start giving a friend driving directions to the nearest McDonald’s. Don’t tell him what you’re doing; just give streets and landmarks, and if your friend doesn’t stop you by the time you lay out a route to the nearest McDonald’s, then pick another one, in the next town, and keep going. Sooner or later, your friend will say something like, “Wait a minute. To where are you giving me directions and what do you want me to do with them? Why are you telling me this?” Bingo! When you speak, make sure you tell your listener what information you’re giving him and what you want him to do with it. It helps him to know up front where to file it in his brain. It doesn’t have to be explicit, but it should be apparent.


Very deep or technical writing is sometimes described as “hard to digest.” Always prepare your message to be the opposite. Cook your thoughts into a verbal fast-food burrito, the kind that you can just lightly squeeze to squirt down your throat. This way, you have a much better chance of your intended message, no matter how complicated or consequential, to actually travel from you to inside your listener. There are subjective meanings, emotional filters, hard-to-follow (un)grammatical constructs, and various other distractions that can easily dilute or detour your message. Expect someone to chew your words to determine what you really mean and you should also expect your listener to get an inaccurate or mistaken understanding. If you won’t put forth the effort to be well understood, why should he put forth the effort to understand? The easier your message is to swallow, the more likely it will be received as intended.


People don’t drink Starbucks coffee strictly for the caffeine, and they don’t pay $2 a cup for just the familiar flavor. People like Starbucks because of the particularly rich taste of something ordinarily quite common. They may drink coffee all day long, everywhere they go, but they notice and remember a Starbucks coffee. And they’ll go out of their way to get it. So take a cue from a company that grabbed a huge chunk of an already well-established market: no matter what you have to say, say it with a little style, a little flair. Do not try to become an entertainer; just become more entertaining. Speak with variety in your vocabulary and a little life in your voice. Body language, tone of voice, and situational context carry much more meaning than the mere definitional content of the words. Just like an exceptionally good cup of coffee, flavor is what makes a message memorable, and, therefore, more meaningful.

McDonald’s, burritos, and Starbucks: all the rest is mere syntax.

Let me know if I'm on target, please.

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