Master Your Message Blog

Simplicity is Power

science-webI often work with groups that are in the technical, engineering, or science fields. I refer to them as “left-brain thinkers.” There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. They’re detail oriented and that’s great! Because without them, we’d likely have far fewer advances in civilization.

However, in presentations, detail-oriented-thinking is usually detrimental to getting your message across. Audiences can’t handle detail—certainly not at one sitting.

Each of the above groups tends to create a very long list of points they want communicate and chock their presentations full of facts and numbers. They’re never happy with three key points under a central theme—they’re always coming up with more and more points …

Take a lesson from the political realm. Political teams come up with one message and hammer it home time and time again until we’re sick of it. But, we remember it. It’s how they win elections and become memorable.

In advertising and television, which is my rather extensive background, we know that you have to be bombarded with a very simple, yet effective message three times before it even registers. Three times! Before it even registers!

I’m continually amused at the complexity of today’s commercials. Many of them attempt humor, which is a most difficult thing to pull off, and in the attempt, completely lose the message. I’m left wondering who the client is. Seriously!

I won a lot of national awards for my television commercials and the ones that won were always the most visually stunning and had the simplest messages. They resonated and they were memorable. I produced a log of dogs, too—don’t get me wrong—but the award-winners are the ones I like to remember.

portraitWe had Lou Heckler in town for a meeting of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. See him live, if you possibly can. He does a fabulous presentation of how to craft a keynote. A keynote is a presentation, usually an hour in length, and the objective is to change the thinking of the audience (sounds a lot like the persuasive presentations I preach about … because it is).

Lou has been speaking about this subject for a long, long time and he has a terrific way to simplify what’s really important.

When he talks about structure of a presentation and drills down to each of the points you want to make, his formula for making each point (or your overall theme) memorable and impactful is this:


Simple, right? Well let’s look at each one in a little more detail.

Clarify: People think I’m kidding when I tell them to dumb down their language to eighth grade level. There are very few successful magazines that target a level higher than eighth grade level. There are NO successful television programs that target above that level. NONE.

Your job is to make your language and explanation so clear that not a single person in the audience misses the point. If they don’t “get it,” it’s not their problem, it’s yours.

Amplify: Lou tells a story of an athlete completing the long jump of about 29 feet in length. To illustrate the point, he pulls out a tape measure and has a volunteer take one end and walk a distance into the audience and then stop. Then he has a number of other volunteers lay down on the tape end-to-end. Once about five people are spread out in a line, he tell the audience the length. They’re dumb-founded. The length seems impossible and the story jumps to a whole new level.

Lists don’t work. Dramatic visuals, stories, and demonstrations do. Show, don’t tell. Reduce your key points to as small a number as possible and amplify them. As Low says, make them “repeatable.” Engage the audience’s imagination.

So if you have a fact that’s important, make sure it’s relative to the experience of your audience. Just throwing out a number likely will mean nothing. Put it in context.

Verify: Finally, make sure your audience “gets it.” Check back with them. If your point is made really powerfully, you won’t have to—they’ll let you know verbally or visually. Always do a short summary to make sure you highlight the key point.

One final thought.

Tapping into emotion is the key to being persuasive (or crafting a keynote that is “repeatable”). Elections aren’t won based on facts. They’re won based on emotions. Emotion sells—yes, even in business.

One of the reasons scientists have such a huge challenge in getting their message across is usually because it’s not super simple, it isn’t based or even connected to any sort of emotional appeal, and it’s targeted way above an eighth grade level.

On the other hand, if you make a short list of your key points, work on making them extremely easy to understand, amplify them with stories and visuals, include your audience in the experience, and check back with them to verify, you’ll have a much more powerful message and be so much more persuasive.

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