Monday, December 07, 2009

Synopsis: Made to Stick (An Overview)

Made to Stick is the most interesting book I've read this year.(*) It shows you how to make your arguments and presentations more memorable and more believable.

(*) 'Made to Stick' ties with 'In Praise of Slow' for the book I've read this year that's been most useful in my life.

The authors, two brothers called Chip and Dan Heath, describe six principles that make your story 'sticky'. By 'sticky', they mean that an audience is likely to remember what you've said, believe what you've said, and then tell other people what you've said.

The six principles are:
  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories
In the spirit of using acronyms to help you remember, the Heath brothers point out that these six principles spell out 'SUCCESs'.

I'm going to go into more detail on each principle in later posts. For now, here's a preview:

Simplicity: you need to create a proverb
In order to make your message sticky, your message needs to simple and profound. Easy to remember and easy to pass on. A good example of what you're aiming for is a proverb (for instance, 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you').

To achieve this simplicity, you'll need to be ruthless in your efforts to reduce your message to its core. You'll need to exclude everything that doesn't matter.


Unexpectedness: this sub-heading demonstrates my point
People will remember your message if you suprise them. Be counter-intuitive; violate their expectations.

You can also ask questions that reveal to your audience they have gaps in their knowledge. That generates interest and curiousity, and they'll listen to you as you fill those gaps.


Concreteness: talk about people, not percentages
You need to explain your ideas at a human, everyday level. Use real examples, vivid images, and natural speech.


Credibility: how do you make people believe you?
This section talks about how to craft your message so that it helps people test your idea for themselves.


Emotions: how do you make someone care?
Mother Teresa once said, "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will."

You make someone care by making them feel. We are wired to feel things for people: specific people, who are known to us, or seem real. It's not easy for us to feel something for a mass of people or an abstraction.


Stories: preparing us for action
Stories teach us how to act once we believe in the message.

Keep a message simple so that people can remember it and pass it on. Craft your message so that people want to learn more, believe what you're saying, and know what you want them to do next.


Why do we need these principles?

Can you remember ever explaining something and then suddenly realising that your audience wasn't really following what you were saying?

Specifically, can you remember doing stuff like:

  • discovering while you were talking that there was something vital they needed to know in order to understand your point
  • using jargon
  • assuming your audience knew about things that had happened earlier in the week
  • skipping over the basics and discussing reasonably advanced or complicated details
  • not finishing sentences, because it was very clear in your own head what you meant
  • realising that you'd told the story out of order
The Heath brothers call this "the Curse of Knowledge". This is a flaw common to most people (I certainly have it): we forget what it's like to NOT know something. As a result, we forget what it's like to know absolutely nothing about the things we're interested in.

The six principles are weapons that can be used to fight the curse of knowledge and create a story that your audience can follow, understand, remember and spread.

I'll dig into them in later posts. In the meantime, here' sTrent's review of 'Made to Stick', over at The Simple Dollar.

Here are my first impressions of the book.

I first mentioned Made to Stick way back when I was synopsising Presentation Zen.
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