Every idea can be presented in such a way that it “sticks”. But how does one go about making ideas sticky – i.e., memorable to the people whom you are pitching?
The book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Dan and Chip Heath, investigates what makes some ideas more effective than others by scrutinizing why ideas become “stickable” in the first place. Successful stories, advertising campaigns and ideas that stick generally share recognizable characteristics that can be summed up in the SUCCESs mnemonic.
Simple – find the core of any idea
Strip down your idea to its bare essentials and meaning. This doesn’t necessarily mean dumbing down your idea, but trimming off anything that isn’t 100 percent needed. It’s easy to add in complexity – many companies seem to do it as an intellectual exercise. But complexity is the antithesis of understanding. Think of an outsider and ask how s/he will interpret your message.
Unexpected – grab people’s attention by surprising them
The first requirement to effectively communicate your idea is to grab someone’s attention with your message. The second part is hanging on to his or her attention once you have it. Humans tend to think in patterns, and you can exploit this by making people break away from their routine ways of thinking.
Concrete – make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later
Make the idea understandable. The person listening to your idea needs to be able to relate to it in some way. Something only becomes concrete when it can be described or detected by the human senses – so avoid abstractness if at all possible.
Credible – give an idea believability
An idea gains credibility when someone authoritative is involved in its telling. (That’s why so many ad campaigns use celebrities – their fame makes the message in the ads more credible).
What do you do if you don’t have the power of celebrity at hand, though? Good news: According to the Heaths, ideas can be made credible with other means. Statistics or testimonials, for example, can be employed to convey credibility.
Emotional – help people see the importance of an idea
You want to make people care, because feelings inspire people to act. You’ve no doubt seen the ASPCA television spots that prominently feature sad-looking animals. When the ad impels you to help animals with a donation, how can you say no?
But ideas don’t need to pull at the audience’s heartstrings to be effective: People can also be made to care through the power of association. Make connections between something your audience already cares about – or something that would serve their self-interest.
Story – empower people to use an idea through narrative
As mentioned above, people naturally think in patterns. Narratives exploit this tendency to drive home a point; that makes them a powerful weapon in the war for people’s attention.
One example comes from oDesk, a marketplace for freelance talent. ODesk, by providing a platform for matching employers and workers in a variety of industries, is an innovative concept in its own right. What’s truly game-changing about oDesk, though, is the way the company has connected hiring organizations in wealthy countries with talent in the developing world – effectively bringing first-world wages to people in less-wealthy countries. Applying this narrative makes it much easier to understand what oDesk does, not to mention serves to build enthusiasm for the company’s mission.
How well do you think you communicate? Following some or all of the Heaths’ suggestions can make you a more effective communicator – both in the workplace and in your personal life.