Originally presented for Refresh OKC on March 30,2017. Slide deck can be viewed here!
Ain’t nobody got time for a snooze-worthy message. We’re busy, we have short attention spans, and by golly we are inundated with options and opinions on everything under the sun. If that wasn’t enough, we all have this giant soapbox with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like. Beyond the marketing department that deals with words and visuals each day, knowing how to communicate can improve your work and life. Face it, communication is a survival skill. So how can you make your ideas break through instead of causing someone to snore through them?
So to get this started, you snore, this is a safe space, you can admit it. This can be literal or figurative. At some point in time we all mentally check out to things being communicated to us. School, church, work, etc. Usually you can blame it on the message not be interesting or relevant. On the other hand we need to communicate our message. Sometimes it is just telling the boss your latest idea, it may be part of your job, and it may be convincing grandma to stop using Internet Explorer.
As an aside, I stumbled across an article about how writing can be a designer’s unicorn skill (something that is rare and incredibly valuable). It has served me well in my career as I often times would write copy for the websites I designed or volunteered to blog about wood flooring. Sometimes you hit that crossroads to pick the next skill set to work on. So take a look at this article from Fast Co. and don’t underestimate the value and need for writing and good communication. It looks good on everyone’s resume and is a skill everyone can learn.
With all that, let’s look at 5 ways to keep your message from being boring, or better yet, snore-proof.
Remember Who You’re Talking To
We were recently in Mexico and walking around a little town. As an American, you’re the target for sales and sure enough, a guy with pretty decent English started in on his pitch. He was selling ponchos with Texas Longhorns on them. Now that probably worked fine for those who live and love Texas, but we were a group from Oklahoma and did I mention we were hot and sweaty? He was persistent, but I couldn’t help but think, if he really knew the rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma, he would stop pushing these ponchos not to mention, we didn’t want anything that would increase our body temperature. He didn’t make a sale from us. What if he changed his message to an OU or OSU poncho, or something we actually needed, like a cold drink? Maybe if he told us this…
How many times is our message ineffective because we are talking to the wrong group of people? I love how Dale Carenegie, a man who spent his life teaching people to communicate, put it…
“Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said, “Wouldn’t you like to have that?”
Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people.” – Dale Carenegie, How to Win Friends & Influence People
Talk Value, not Product
Now that you know who you are talking to, get in their head. This is the tricky part because you spent time and money developing a product, service, or app and you did it better than everyone else and have the best product / idea. The problem is the buyer doesn’t want to hear about why your thing is the best or greatest, but how your thing is going to make his life better / happier / easier. This is a selling tactic that translates well into communication. Guy Kawasaki had an aha moment when he realized he was doing exactly this.
“We were so enchanted by our own product that we could not understand why everyone else did not feel the same way. That’s when I learned that one must understand what people are thinking, feeling, and believing in order to enchant them.” ― Guy Kawasaki, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions
So let me introduce you to the elements of value. Harvard Business Review has a thorough breakdown and is a pretty interesting read. Simply put, these are the values people respond to with sales. The more you use, the higher the chance to make the sale. Amazon hits on about 8 of these elements well with consistency.
When crafting your message keep these elements in mind. Think about pizza. What makes us what to buy it and how many elements of value can you find and why? My husband is convinced pizza hits on them all and is transcendent. Maybe he’s on to something.
Pick one benefit and focus on that even if you have 10 amazing things your product does. You can talk about another at a different time. Remember that a vast majority of consumers have a lot on their mind and don’t have time to hear the 20 amazing reasons why they should buy your product. Some of the things I do when writing copy for clients:
Talk about one feature at a time
This is a great way to create a content plan for your company. Start breaking down your industry into chunks and then dissect those chunks even further. You’d be surprised that there is a lot to say about gaps in floors, one of a hundred subjects related to wood flooring.
This keeps me on target and I often times start with my headings and then fill them in. This keeps you on course and keeps your message clear and concise. I can quickly jot down inspiration and research and expand it later.
Use Strong Verbs
Awhile back I got on a Hemingway kick with my writing. I wanted to learn his style and see what I could bring over to my own. In this process I found an app that was revealing on how much fluff was in my writing. Was I being to verbose, could I pare down that sentence, and can my verbs be more effective? Give it a try for yourself, I think it will improve our writing chops. Hemingway App
In the words of Hemingway… “If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”
Keep it Off Beat
Do one thing different or unexpected, grab attention!
I like to start my writing with something totally unexpected. It can be some crazy metaphor how how the construction of a laminate floor is like a chicken nugget. It can also be a statement that is a little shocking.
So when you’re crafting your writing or talk, think above the fold. Web designers and editors put the important elements and headlines in the upper half of a web page or newspapers. With web visits you have seconds to make a good impression before the person clicks away. This is the same idea. I put something attention-grabbing in my first sentence.
Another thing to watch for is how you start your sentences. It is easy to go for a noun… I blow a whistle to keep people from snoring. How about starting some sentences with a preposition. ie: To keep people from snoring, I blow a whistle. There’s also your “ing.” Blowing a whistle, people immediately stopped snoring. Then there’s the “ly”. Suddenly everyone stopped snoring when I blew my whistle.
Last, you have your message, you know it will resonate with your reader, but can you take it a step further and come up with a totally different way to present it? It is a challenge I take on, because if I can do things differently, I’ll get more attention with what I want to communicate.
Get out of the WE mindset
This revisits something I mentioned earlier, but this is so important to communicating your ideas, product, and service so that people want to listen. I notice it with brands, that they get stuck in the mode of “we.” It is the default human mode, but when communicating your idea or product it is so incredibly important to snap out of this way of thinking and is difficult to do. We do this, we do that, oh and this is why we are better. Other people don’t always pay attention unless there is something of value to them. So hop in their shoes. Ann Handley points this phenomenon out so well in her book, Everybody Writes. Take a look at chapters 10 and 12.
“Swap places with your reader. Be a skeptic of your own work. Get out of your own head, and into your reader’s or your customer’s. Relentlessly, unremittingly, obstinately think of things from your reader’s point of view, with empathy for the experience you are giving them.” – Ann Handley, Everybody Writes
When you break out of the WE mindset, you will see results. The is the premise behind StoryBrand as well.
If you haven’t fallen asleep on me yet…
Hopefully I have done my job and kept you all awake. Just in case, I’m going to give you the biggest key to engaging communication and messaging. It’s really simple but very hard to do. Are you ready? Let’s go back to good ol’ Dale Carnegie for the takeaway…
“Talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours.” – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
References & More Reading:
Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki
Elements of Value – Harvard Business Review