Keep it simple: Communicating efficiently with Axios co-founder, Mike Allen

October 17, 2022

Keep it simple: Communicating efficiently with Axios co-founder, Mike Allen

Mike Allen & Jim VandeHei

Co-Founder of Axios & Co-Founder and CEO of Axios

Mike Allen, Axios co-founder and co-author of Smart Brevity, discusses how to communicate effectively by saying more with less.

“Brevity is confidence, length is fear.”

This guiding principle inspired our latest Walker Webcast guest, Mike Allen, Axios co-founder and co-author of Smart Brevity. He joined Willy to discuss how to communicate effectively by saying more with less. Everyone — regardless of their position in corporate America — can benefit from these lessons learned!

Mike’s background is in “the traditional media world” of political reporters at newspapers. But for so long, he explains to Willy, “the incentives for journalists were the wrong things.”

He talks about how he based his first morning newsletter on the idea of conversation and communication. “Don’t think of yourself as a journalist but as a human connecting with another human,” he recalls. Furthermore, the average person only engages with a piece of content for around 20 seconds.

This newsletter, Political Playbook, became famed political media source POLITICO. Then Mike, Jim VandeHei, and Roy Schwartz decided to “flip this idea.” Instead of starting content from the perspective of its creators, why not think first about the people reading, viewing, and listening to media? Then create an experience just for them.

This idea, and how it played out into Axios, was completely novel for the news consumer, Mike explains. In Smart Brevity, he and his co-authors detail all the tips and tricks, with the goal of helping readers “break this wall” and find their own voice.

Mike shares a few examples. To communicate more powerfully, figure out what you want to say, think of a sharp way to communicate it, and then just say it. “In other words, think about thinking, not typing.”

“Sharp communication leads to sharp strategy,” Mike declares, and notes that these lessons are applicable to any part of corporate America or sales.

Another tip: When giving a presentation, focus on images, not sentences. Having just a couple of words on a slide will help your listeners focus on the big ideas and remain engaged throughout your presentation, Mike explains. Willy illustrates by sharing the strategy used in some of his recent communications and the “the unbelievable effect” this advice had.

Mike then talks about how energy giant BP put Smart Brevity into action. When BP’s press secretary started embracing the philosophy, he found that more people read the company’s communications and absorbed their messages.

Communication is always evolving, according to Mike. He talks about how the pandemic has changed the way we all communicate. He also discusses the role of technology. For example, the data science at Axios used all of its content to develop algorithms that help anybody communicate with smart brevity. “The shortest words in the English language often have the biggest impact on the brain.”

Mike reminds listeners that all profits of Smart Brevity will go to the Axios Fellowship Program, which aims to recruit and maintain more diverse writers into media and journalism. “Inclusive communication is essential for effective communication.” Mike then wraps up the conversation with his political predictions for the next few years.

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