Read this book: Made to Stick
I just finished reading Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, and if you are in the business of having to present ideas to others and get them acted on (and if you read this blog you probably are), then you need to read this book.
Authors/brothers Chip and Dan Heath have put together one of the most succinct and valuable resources for helping communicate ideas effectively and inspiring others to action. They have a simple mnemonic to help remember the vital elements (and they admit it’s a bit corny): SUCCESs:
- Simple: Strip away all the cruft and get at the core idea. Easy to say, hard to do. What often gets in the way here is what they call “The Curse of Knowledge” - knowledge that is in the head of the person trying to communicate the idea. This tends to make people add to much detail, but also leave out the basic underlying message which for them is a given (but is non-obvious to someone unfamiliar with the idea).
- Unexpected: Shake people out of their expected conventions of thinking. This doesn’t have to be earth shattering, but crafting of the message in such a way that the problem you are trying to solve becomes more stark is important.
- Concrete: Engage the emotional as well as the rational when communicating by making the problem tangible: use props, scenarios, prototypes, familiar examples. Make it personal.
- Credible: Through appropriate use of details you bring credibility to an idea so that it can stand on its own and be repeatable to others. The ideas should punctuate the broader idea, but your story can’t just be a collection of details. Outside experts can provide credibility and details, or the details may come from personal experience.
- Emotional: Understand how people’s emotions induce or inhibit them from action, whether it be because of self-interest or altruism
- Stories: Stories have an amazing power to inspire and galvanize people into action, more than seems rationally possible. Including stories as part of your message makes it more engaging, lively, and ultimately more impactful. Keep the stories short, like parables (the Good Samaritan parable for example), as these are easily memorized durable and portable nuggets that can be passed from person to person. People are very good at abstracting principles out of stories, so they are an efficient communication tool.
I have to admit I was skeptical going into this book as I’m not usually a fan of business/pop-psychology writing that strings together a bunch of anecdotes as it often misses an analytical framework that helps you abstract it to your particular situation. But the Heaths do a good job of providing that framework, and the many, many anecdotes that they have serve that. Not all the chapters are as good as the others - the ones on credibility and emotion are not quite as strong - but you come out at the end of it with a sense that you have really learned how to communicate complex ideas more effectively.