Do you ever feel like life has just gotten way too complicated? Between juggling 98 work projects, 5 conference calls daily, piano lessons, soccer practices and games, carpool, birthday parties, lunches and dinners for a family of four 7 days a week, dog groomings/shots/weird emergencies (MOM! The dog ate the nail clippers!! Again!!), kid emergencies (middle of the night throwing up, strange rashes, best friend drama, teen drama, crushes), homework assignments, permission slips, parent-teacher conferences, 400 email passwords, and 4 email inboxes bursting at the seams…let me just tell you that a ‘simple’ trip down the laundry detergent aisle of my local grocery store with 17 different detergent options made me recently abandon my shopping cart (there were no cold products in it, I’m happy to say) and walk out to my car and just put my head down on my steering wheel for five full minutes.
That’s why reading this article on simplicity in messaging cheered me up immensely. I am a HUGE fan of keeping it simple – simply read the first paragraph of this blog post and you’ll know why. Every new technology, new app, new ‘innovation’ requires more of me – more creative ‘strong’ passwords; more log-in security questions and answers (which in good writer fashion I have begun to fictionalize for fun); more brain power; more time to ‘learn’ the fabulous new program or platform…in fact, when I told a friend I was getting my first iPhone on Friday, he said, “Good! You’ll have the whole weekend to figure it out.”
Wait – did you hear that? It was the sound of my iPhone excitement balloon deflating.
So yes, I am a fan of simplicity. In messaging and in life. More choices do not always mean better choices. Many people and companies feel that the more ‘options’ they provide, the better. The more content they provide, the better. The more choices in customization, the better. But you know what people really want?
They want to walk into the store, grab a laundry detergent, and go home. That’s it.
This simple philosophy applies in messaging, in marketing (especially B2B!), and in life. I work with people who are way smarter than me who make really cool yet very complicated technology. But if you can’t communicate the benefits of that cool, complicated technology clearly and concisely – and in a way that stands out from the clutter of other cool, complicated technology on the market, it won’t sell. Period. This is true in any business and in life. If you need to convince anyone of something – whether it’s your kids, your customers or yourself – you have to keep it simple.
Here are five simple ways to make sure your message is clear, concise and memorable no matter who you’re talking to:
1. Will a six-year-old get it? The old rule in my writing classes was, write for a sixth grade audience. I say make it six years old. Today most six-year-olds are more technology savvy than we will ever be. Distilling your message down to a six-year-old’s understanding does not make you less smart, make your message less relevant or your product any less cool. It just helps the people who buy it understand why they should. It helps people understand why they should listen to you and do what you want them to do.
Don’t have a six-year-old handy to try this out on? Borrow a friend’s kid. Practice on a niece or nephew. If you can’t explain to them what you do or what you’re trying to say, you need to rethink your message.
2. Read your message out loud. Are you using three-syllable words when a one-syllable word would do? Are you just showing off your big vocabulary? Do sentences run on for a full paragraph? After you read your message out loud, do you know what you actually said? Or is it like trying to read a paragraph with six toddlers around – you read it seven times and you’re still not sure what it said? If you answered yes to any of the above, try again. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
3. What 3 key points do you want people to remember? The rule of three is well-known to fiction writers. You get three wishes. Three days to complete your mission. There are three sisters. You get the idea. Why is this? Because it’s easier to remember. And in some cases, the story could go on forever – like some presentations we’ve all suffered through. If you continually find yourself reiterating points, rambling, writing 5 pages of messaging when you know damn well you only have 3 minutes to talk, ask yourself: what 3 things do I want people to remember? Write those three things down. Go from there.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I used this trick on myself in my personal life. When I decided I wanted to lose my stress/baby/negligent weight gain “once and for all,” I gave myself 3 simple rules: no white carbs, no sugar, no processed food. It was easy. I could remember it. I didn’t need to track points, look up calorie counts, keep a food journal, spend thousands of dollars on expensive prepared meals. All stuff that I don’t have the patience for. Not that I knock formal programs – whatever works for you. But I’m a simple gal. The power of 3 simple rules worked for me. I lost 40 pounds and have kept it off for almost two years now. I wouldn’t suggest this to you if I hadn’t tried it on myself, you know.
4. Is it memorable? Is it different? There are a lot of great writers in the world. But there are a select few who know how to write a headline, a phrase, or a question that just sticks with people. They remember it. In marketing, we call this your point of differentiation or value wedge. In real life, it’s called, what makes you different from everyone else? Find that. Work it. It could be a strong personal story or compelling statistic. For public speakers, it might be their delivery. Find something that is unique to you, authentic to your story or compelling in some way to your audience (not just you). Not offensive. Not questionable. Not over-sharing. Just – memorable. Honest. Simple. What will make your message different from what everyone else will say?
I remember when I was in graduate school studying for my MFA in Creative Writing, this fear came up a lot and I was no exception: what I have to say isn’t different, it’s been said before, it’s unoriginal, blah blah blah. The thing is, there are no original stories. The only thing that makes them different is your perspective, your experience of it. It’s the one thing that differentiates you from everyone else: you. Which leads me to the last point…
5. Does it reflect the real you? This is probably the toughest one for everyone, myself included. If you’re not typically perceived as a comedian, don’t force the jokes. If you’re a lighthearted, madcap creative person, don’t try to pull off a professor approach. Just be you. Find a story from your life that symbolizes what you’re trying to convey and also shows the ‘real’ you. There are times when you need to ‘fake it until you make it,’ but when you want to communicate a message, persuade or convince someone, this is not the time to be fake. This is the time to be you. This is what people will remember. After all, if you’re not OK with you, why should anyone else be?
I hope this helps you find the right way to tell your story, whether it’s for investors, customers, your kids, or yourself. Just so you know, the picture in my post is a sign that my 11-year-old daughter bought with her own money at a charity event. It says “Be Amazing.” It hangs right next to her bed with other pictures that inspire and enlighten her. It doesn’t get any more simple than that, does it?
So the next time you need to say something, just remember: Be clear. Be simple. Be you. And above all, be amazing.