Communications that engage your audience

Coming rather late to the party, I’ve been engrossed in the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.  First published in 2007, the back cover blurb claims that the Heath brothers “….take the lid off one of the great mysteries of life: why is it that we have no difficulty at all in remembering the details of, say, a bogus scare story, and yet often struggle to recall information that may be vital to us….”.

I was captivated from page 1 where they launch straight into one of the most pervasive (they describe it as “successful”) urban legends of the last 20 years.  (Use the ‘Look inside’ feature on Amazon to read this for yourself.)

The credentials of the two brothers writing the book also pulled me in: Dan’s background is education with a particular focus on what makes great teachers great.  His input makes this book required reading for all current and would-be teachers.  Chip is a professor at Stanford University who, after years of researching what makes ideas stick, started teaching the subject.  The collaboration of the researcher-and-teacher with the practitioner-and-writer has produced a book crammed full of anecdotes, examples and practical guidance on what exactly it is that makes ideas truly resonate with others.

The structure of the book is around their ‘six principles of successful ideas’:
Simple
Unexpected
Concrete
Credible (or Credentialed)
Emotional
Stories
…which, by design, condenses into the memorable acronym SUCCESs.

Their sources of inspiration / illustration range from Aesop’s Fables to Hollywood scripts and urban legends.  The range and variety of examples are both thought provoking and add conviction, but it is an example taken from another business author – Stephen Covey (author of the hugely successful The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) – that made me consider how many times I had used what I thought were compelling statistics in a wholly unmemorable way.  This is the example:

“Stephen Covey, in his book The 8th Habit, describes a poll of 23,000 employees drawn from a number of companies and industries. He reports the poll’s findings:

  • only 37% said they have a clear understanding of what their organisation is trying to achieve and why
  • only one in five was enthusiastic about their team’s and their organisation’s goals
  • only one in five said they had a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s and organisation’s goals
  • only 15% felt that their organisation fully enables them to execute key goals
  • only 20% fully trusted the organisation they worked for.”

So far, so familiar but, even so, it’s hard to disagree with the Heath brother’s reaction of “Pretty sobering stuff”.  They go on to say “…it’s also pretty abstract..” and comment that the majority of readers would be left with the rather vague feeling that “There’s a lot of dissatisfaction and confusion in most companies” as opposed to hearing this as the wake-up call that one might hope for.  The illustration continues:

“Then Covey superimposes a very human metaphor over the statistics. He says, ‘If, say, a soccer team had these same scores:

  • only 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs
  • only 2 of the 11 would care
  • only 2 of the 11 what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do
  • all but 2 players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent”

This is a great example of translating some organisational statistics which, by their very nature, are corporate and therefore faceless, into something that has shock value, paints a faintly humorous picture and brings the statistics vividly to life.

Seeing Covey’s example, I’d like to think that I have the intellectual capacity and imagination to draft communications that bring key messages to life in a similarly powerful way.  However, having read the book, I’m under no illusion that it’s as easy as Covey (and other examples throughout the book) make it appear.

If it were, we would all be doing it.

As it is, it’s a goal worth working towards.

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About madeleinekavanagh

Internal comms specialist with a career spanning advertising, car sales and management consulting. My greatest legacy (so far) - my son!
This entry was posted in Corporate Communications, Internal communications, People management / motivation, Story telling and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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