Made to Stick: How to make your idea sound interesting and memorable
Before you skim through this blog, I would urge you to think of your favourite TV commercial and make a mental note of why you like it.
In a world full of information, it is hard to get across an idea let alone make people remember it. An idea, when conveyed effectively, can stick to people's minds like magnets on the refrigerator door.
But, is there a method to convey ideas in such a manner that people remember them?
Chip and Dan Heath, two brothers, who were curious about this, pored over hundreds of campaigns and advertisements. After this thorough research, they concluded that the ideas which stuck in people's minds often had six characteristics.
They wrote a bestseller, 'Made To Stick', in which they give us a framework that we can use to convey our ideas effectively.
In this post, instead of simply recounting the six principles, I am going to recount my own experiences that align with these principles and attempt to understand what is special about these principles. So stick around till the end to see how the principles play out!
Keep it simple
In one of my classes about academic writing, our professor was explaining how to frame an argument. A lot of us who were new to academic writing were so confused even after his lengthy explanation. So, he used a brief statement that he had learnt from his professors, 'the argument of your essay is the sentence that comes after "what I really mean to say is that"'.
In a flash, we understood how to frame an argument. This was the crux of his lecture and the main takeaway as well. He condensed an hour or two's worth of (tedious) lecture in one sentence. He conveyed the idea in a simple way that even someone like me who was unfamiliar with academic writing would understand it, and yet he managed to retain the essence of it.
Being simple yet maintaining the essence of an idea goes a long way in making the idea stick to the audience's mind; it can also help them in decision-making. I used the statement that our professor gave for every paper that I wrote after that.
However, keep in mind that when an idea is simplified, the crux of the idea is what should be your focus. You can reduce a lengthy paragraph into a simple sentence but it doesn't help much if the essence of your idea is not conveyed through the sentence. So, the first step you should do is identify the crux of your idea and then try to convey it through simple words.
Surprise your audience
A commercial for an Enclave minivan starts by explaining the features such as remote-controlled sliding gear doors, a full sky-view roof, temperature-controlled cup holders, etc. A happy family is shown travelling in the minivan. The mother is in the passenger seat and the little boy is gazing out at the giant, leafy trees. Suddenly, the vehicle meets with an accident at an intersection. We hear a collision and the sound of glass shards falling to the floor. The screen fades to black, and a message appears: 'Didn’t see that coming?' The question fades and is replaced by a statement: 'No one ever does.' With the sound of a stuck horn blaring in the background, a few final words flash across the screen: 'Buckle up... Always.'
The visuals of a happy family weekend turning into a terrible accident was not something I expected. I thought the advertisement was about vehicle's features, but what happened was unexpected. The twist at the end makes us recoil in surprise as we would not have guessed that the advertisement was actually a safety campaign.
It used an unexpected element to break the thinking pattern of its audience. In the same way, it is very useful to include an element of surprise, something unexpected, while conveying any idea. It helps in attracting attention and making people feel more curious about what you have to say.
However, using gimmicks and empty surprises which add no meaning to your ideas can backfire.
'A Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost is one of my favourite poems. What is beautiful about it is that Frost takes us through his wonderful journey of life-changing decisions through the imagery of roads in autumn. The stark visual of two roads diverging appears in my mind whenever I am faced with multiple choices in life. Even while drafting this, I didn't remember the title of the poem; I just remembered that Frost wrote about two roads divulging in a wood and he took the one that was less travelled by.
This is a great example of how an imagery pinned down the idea of something as abstract as decision-making. The fact that it has stuck to my mind (and now yours) makes it a brilliant tool. Be like Robert Frost; make your abstract idea concrete using analogies, visuals or even everyday objects.
In the name of the lord
The Netflix show 'The Social Dilemma' was recommended to me by so many people as a 'must-watch'. A quick summary if you haven't watched it yet: it is a documentary where ex-employees from social media giants recount their experiences of what place ethics and data have in a social media company. It was definitely an eye-opener for the millions of people who watched it. In fact, people were quick to de-activate their notifications or even accounts after watching the documentary.
The nature of the person conveying a message adds (or reduces) credibility. Ethos, one of the three tools that can be used for persuasive speech, states that who says what matters too. Here, the directors of 'The Social Dilemma' were able to convey the reality of social media networking through ex-employees.
But, many of us do not have access to authorities like them. In that case, create an anti-authority. Campaigns advocating non-smoking or the dangers of alcohol usually have a chain-smoker or an alcoholic recount their experiences that warn others of potential dangers.
You can also try allowing people to test your idea by themselves. Then they become a first-hand authority of it. As I am writing this, I am reminded of Airtel's campaign asking users to test the claims of 'fastest internet in India' by themselves.
Stir an emotion
I remember watching a video of a stand-up comedian who referred to newspaper articles highlighting LPG cylinder explosions instilled a fear in middle class households, encouraging them to do a safety check of their LPG cylinders. He concludes, 'These days my mom says "have you switched off the gas?" more than "l love you" to me'.
The newspapers intentionally used an emotion (fear) to convey that one should be cautious with LPG cylinders. This word of caution stuck with the comedian's mother and countless readers.
Evoking emotions associated with your idea is a great way to make people remember as they would remember the feeling and subsequently the idea that made them feel so.
Unearth the story
Going back to my undergraduate days, as part of a lecture, our professor asked us to read two perspectives of a single incident, the collapse of a metro rail structure. The first one was objective, stating when, where and how the incident happened. The second piece of writing was a narrative of a man who lived with his wife and daughter and promised to return home soon that evening. But he doesn't; the metro rail structure had collapsed on him.
After reading both, the professor asked us to close our books and think about which one we recounted better. Naturally, it was the narrative piece of journalism. What did the story format do that the more detailed report couldn't? It added life to the incident by providing a persona to hook on to and a sea of emotions.
Using a story is an effective means to not only communicate an idea but also to help understand why they should care about it.
These six principles are what have been condensed by Chip and Dan Heath into the 'SUCCESs' framework - Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotion and Story. Following is an illustration of these principles that you can save for your future reference.
Now, revisit your mental note of your favourite TV commercial and see what principles from SUCCES it makes use of. After all, identification is the first step towards implementation, don't you agree?