Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who Defines Stickiness?

We’reached the final chapter of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survivie and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. The authors have covered the “basics” of stickiness, and now point to four villains that will undo and circumvent stickiness every time:

• The natural tendency to bury the lead – to hide (usually unintentionally) what the real point is.

• A focus on the presentation rather than the message. The forms of a slide show, a formal speech, or a press release are not what should determine what you’re trying to say.

• Decision paralysis – when you have too much choice ot the situation is ambiguous.

• The “Curse of Knowledge” – where you confuse how you arrived at your idea or message and confuse it with how to communicate it. In other words, you communicate it like you were the audience (more on that word in a bit).

A good example the Heaths cite is that tool that has done more to destroy communicate than aything else in the modern era: PowerPoint. “Business managers,” they write, “seem to believe that, once they’ve clicked through a PowerPoint presentation showcasing their conclusions, they’ve successfully communicated their ideas. What they’ve done is share data.”

The point of all this is simple: don’t treat the people you’re trying to communicated with as an audience.

I wrote a paper on this once. I said that, for communication purposes and any other purpose, for that matter, employees are not an audience. No one you’re trying to communicate with is an audience. The word assumes a passive group of people who will listen and “get educated” or be entertained. A group of people watching a movie in a theater is an audience; a person watching a television show may be part of an audience. The person sitting in a conference room listening to you talk, the person in a large hall listening to you speak, or the people joining you for lunch are not an audience. Instead, they are people you’re trying to communicate with, perhaps build a relationship with or become part of a community with.

But they are anything but passive. And today they’re often tweeting what you’re saying while you say it, and offering their own commentary in the process.

(By the way, I wrote in my paper that “message,” as in “my message points,” also should be tossed on the trash heap of bad communications.)

Ultimately, it is the people you’re trying to communicate with who will define stickness. Understanding them, their needs, their desires, and how best to talk with them will make what you’re saying stick or be ignored as superfluous.

Laura Boggess has been leading a discussion of Made to Stick at The High Calling. Last weels discussion on stories can be found here.

The posts in this series:

On Simple: The One Time Something I Did Went Viral

On Unexpected: Singing Opera in Journalism Class

On Credible: As Concrete – as Air

On Concrete: It Was All in the Numbers

On Emotional: An Engineer Got Emotional
On Stories: The Sticky Stories of Billy Coffey


Laura said...

Some of the worst conferences I've been to involved presentations where the presenter simply read her powerpoint slide to the audience. It was painful. Great thoughts here, as usual, Glynn. I'll have one more post on this book. Thanks for coming along, I always love to hear your stories.

Kathleen Overby said...

Once I heard a very high profile missionary in India, who worked with a para church organization give a talk. He gave us looooong minutes of data. He had spent hours on the sharp presentation. Both droned on forever while my heart stayed splashing in a happy spot on the water somewhere to keep from getting itchy.

Then his wife spoke for ten minutes. We laughed, cried and everyone in the room caught the vision to support their efforts. She told stories.

He wasn't sticky, but fortunately for him he had a very sticky wife. Honey sticky. Finger lickin' good sticky. :)