As a writer, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that it was in my best interest to assume that most people don’t read very much or listen very well. Short attention spans, busy lives and almost constant distractions create enormous challenges for communicators. It’s an undeniable fact that audiences bore easily.
President Obama waded into the treacherous waters of Middle East politics last week with his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. In so doing, he gave us a simple lesson in bridge-building leadership that we can learn from. What made it a success were words and ideas that valued honesty, fairness and respect in an effort to find common ground – no easy feat in a region torn by division and violence for more than 50 years.
Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. Torture. Whatever your political point of view, the words “enhanced interrogation techniques” are inaccurate and purposely designed to mislead. For one thing, the term has nothing to do with interrogation; it’s all about physical coercion.
A recent book entitled Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, written by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, focuses on the six characteristics that make ideas memorable (“sticky”). To be sticky, they say, ideas have to be: • Simple • Unexpected • Concrete
• Credible • Emotional • And tell a story. While it’s kind of hokey that these key words spell out SUCCESS, the authors have hit it on the head in more ways than one; the six characteristics that make ideas sticky make writing sticky too.
How often do you hear a speech, read a blog, watch a commercial, or peruse an email blast and say, huh?? What is this about? Or, what does this have to do with me? Keep that confusion in mind the next time you need to communicate. The point is, you’ll be wasting your time… unless you’re crystal clear, from the outset, about the outcome you want.
President Obama’s recent speech before a joint session of Congress last week couldn’t have contrasted more sharply with the rebuttal given by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. But the stark differences in style and political substance were only part of what set these two speeches apart. The other key difference was the choice of words and images they used to build a “reality” for the audience that they could easily comprehend, given the complexity of our economic difficulties.