Chip and Dan Heath, in Made to Stick, write about the six attributes that make lessons, information, and communications memorable and actionable. Not all sticky information needs all six attributes, but more attributes means greater probability that your audience (students, prospects, customers, co-workers, etc.) will remember and incorporate your message into their actions.
Successful communications are
Simple: they hone in on the essence, the one aspect that needs to be communicated.
Unexpected: by producing a cognitive dissonance in the audience, they demand greater attention.
Concrete: they relate to an incident or object instead of an abstraction.
Credible: they use statistics, authorities, cases, or simulations as proof elements.
Emotional: they hook into emotions to spur action and long term memory.
Stories: they use stories instead of just listing facts or bullets.
Unfortunately, the description above violates virtually every one of those attributes. Even knowing that the attributes use the mnemonic SUCCES, if all you do is read those first few paragraphs, you won’t remember any of this and your communications will remain forgettable. You probably won’t even buy the book.
Here’s a great example that shows the contrast between sticky and non-sticky communication.
Let’s say you wanted to produce a summary of a conference. Which would be more effective for the attendees and other interested parties:
Provide all of the handouts, data, and presentation files from the presenters in one, easy-to-use location.
Compile every funny, tragic, or exciting story told by the presenters.
The Heaths point out that people will remember the stories and their lessons. The presenters spent most of their time researching the data and creating the presentations. If the purpose of your summary is to acknowledge the effort and expertise of the presenters, you’ll post the notes and data. But, if your purpose is to maximize the impact of the conference on the attendees and audience, you’ll post the stories.
Here is an example from school.
Imagine that you want to teach a lesson on journalistic writing: after getting the facts, start your article with the main idea. Do you
Show articles that do this, explaining (or having the students explain) how the authors found, organized, and reported on the story.
Present facts, such as, “The governor will address the teachers of this school next Thursday in a full day session on (and so on).” Let the students write their stories and hand them in. And only then spring the main idea on them, what should have been their headline or starting sentence: that there will be no school this Thursday.
The second builds in story-telling, unexpectedness, emotion, and concreteness while bolstering the credibility of the instructor. Students will remember it.
By the way, did you know that in all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, he never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson?” There were plenty of times he said, “Elementary.” There were plenty of times he said, “My dear Watson.” And there were plenty of times he was condescending to Watson. Even though the phrase, itself, was never actually uttered, if you ask someone to quote Sherlock Holmes, that’s probably what you’ll hear. That’s because it really captures the essence of the master detective and his relationship with his faithful assistant.
Now, if we can capture the power of “Elementary, my dear Watson” in our own communications, while being accurate, maybe we can be more effective teachers, workers, and leaders.
My suggestion, if you want to sell better, manage better, or teach better, buy Made to Stick.