We seek to bestir the people into an awareness of their own condition, provide inspiration for their thoughts and ROUSE Them to pursue their true interests.
- Jack Knight
Inspiration starts with information. We cannot act if we do not understand, and many of the challenges we face – as individuals, as an organization, and as a society – are extremely complex. It isn’t always clear even what the problem is, let alone how to solve it, and we can be so deeply enmeshed in systems we are a part of that we can’t see how things might be different. Thus the first job of anyone who would inspire others to act is to “bestir us into an awareness of our own condition”. You have to inspire people’s thoughts.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds – simply telling people about a problem often won’t cut it. Effectively conveying information so as to maximize impact and recall is a skill which must be improved through practice. Future posts will explore specific techniques which can help you clarify your message, but here I want to outline some general considerations.
What, Why, and How
If you want someone to act around an issue, you’ll need to tell them what the issue is, why it’s important, and how they can help. This seems basic, but it’s amazing how many appeals fall short because they leave out one of these key elements – particularly the third. Unless your audience knows what problem you’re trying to solve, why they should care about the problem, and specifically what they can do about it, your appeal cannot effectively call them to action.
Clarity is absolutely essential, and specificity is king. Vague, formless calls to action are simply worthless. This means you have to get to the point fast: at least to begin with, eliminate everything which isn’t directly related to your pitch. You can work in other aspects of your call after you’ve clarified precisely what message you want to convey.
A couple of great tricks for achieving this are to reduce your pitch to a one sentence summary – a single, simple sentence – and then to outline the whole argument in three simple points. Some appeal can be effective with only these two elements. A very basic (but potentially powerful) pitch structure is the following:
- Begin with your single sentence.
- State your three points.
- Recap and summarize your three points.
- Reiterate your single sentence.
This is what people are talking about when they suggest you “Say what you’re going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.” I just like to add a final call to action at the end: call, argument, recap, call. Simple, clear, concise. Crystal clarity.
Effective dissemination of information isn’t just clear – it’s also sticky. It sticks in the mind, creating emotional resonances and remaining easy to recall long afterward. There are countless techniques to increase a pitch’s “stickiness”, but here are a couple to consider: make your appeals emotionally compelling, and use repetition.
Multiple studies on memory demonstrate that we tend to remember emotional experiences far more effectively than unemotional ones. All of us know this: just think of your most vivid memories, and they are bound to be those infused with the greatest emotional significance, both positive and negative. By making our appeals emotional we’ll also make them sticky, helping people remember what we’ve said and what we’ve asked them to do.
Repetition is one of the simplest techniques anyone can use to make the information they are trying to convey stick. Just think of Herman Cain and his 999 plan: the name of plan itself involves repetition (of the number 9), and Cain repeated that name incessantly. Say whatever you like about his campaign (and much of it sucked), but everyone can remember “999″.
Information should be conveyed through multiple modalities at once in order to increase your communicative effectiveness. For instance, accompanying your text with an image, or your story with appropriate music, engages more of the senses and is likely to increase recall. Furthermore, it’s often valuable to provide different entry-points into your pitch for people who prefer to engage with information in different ways: some prefer working with numbers, others with images yet others with spoken word. Use them all.
There’s much more to be said about the process of effective information transfer, but the above techniques are a start. If you can tell the audience what the problem is, why it’s important to them, and how they can help (specifically!), in a way that is clear, sticky, and multi-modal, you will likely communicate your information much more rapidly, with less scope for misunderstanding and greater chance of recall. And, once your audience is informed, you are one step closer to rousing them to action.
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