Minnesota Cities Magazine
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Message Matters: Crafting a Simple Message—If You Lose Them, You Can’t Persuade Them

By Jeff Tippett

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t know enough about it.”


Consider this bold statement: we all live or die based on our ability to persuade.

Think about it: everyone needs to persuade. Whether you’re a CEO responsible to lead an organization and often navigate significant changes, an elected official working to pass a bill or win an election, a manager with direct responsibility for the performance of those you lead, a salesperson whose income is directly related to your ability to close the sale, or simply an individual hoping to live life with the company of a significant other—we all have to persuade.

Almost all effective, persuasive messaging has one common core component: simplicity.

Whether conveying a policy position, business concepts, or the attributes of a product—whatever it is that you need to share in order to pull your audience along—no one will jump on board if they don’t clearly grasp your message.

First and foremost in crafting persuasive messaging is making certain that your core message is easily accessible to your audience—that you’re using language that isn’t unnecessarily busy. The message is rarely simple; in most cases, it is multifaceted. And you probably know the issue at its deepest and most complex level. You probably know every intricacy. And you should.

But when it comes to persuading others, you must—at least at the outset— keep it simple. Here are four suggestions to help with that.

1. Debrief yourself.

When you set about to craft a message, ideas probably begin to bounce around in your head like ping pong balls. You see all the dimensions, curves, angles, and various components. You now need to get all that out of your head.

So get it all out, all those concepts. Explore how to best do so. Whether writing on a whiteboard, speaking into a recording device, journaling, etc., we all have different ways of working. Find the way that’s right for you. And don’t focus on narrowing the messaging. Go broad. Get it all out there, even things that might seem (at present) silly or irrelevant.

Once it’s all out there, it’s time to begin the process of crafting that simple, persuasive message. This content will be a living message; it’ll continue to evolve over time.

2. Ask yourself, “What problem does this solve?”

Every human being has three fundamental areas of concern: money, relationships, and health. Given all of life’s complexities, most all problems can be tossed into one of these buckets. Offering solutions to issues in one of those categories is a great way to motivate people to take action.

The common practice in marketing a product or service is to stress its selling points. But that’s not often the most effective motivation. If you want people to care, show them how what you’re offering will solve a real problem they face.

Start with the problem/solution model: My audience has a problem and I can solve it. People will pay attention if you’re solving a real problem for them. So can you, in one succinct sentence, explain what that is?

3. Ask what is crucial. Strike everything else.

By eliminating what is not necessary, the necessary can shine.

As you craft your message, read with a critical eye. You’ll likely immediately begin to see what needs to be trimmed. Focus on eliminating any and all unnecessary elements. Take out your red pen. Start striking through non-crucial elements. Ask yourself what details really matter. Everything else must go!

Think one word at a time and ask yourself: What does this word add? If it adds nothing, lose it.

4. Remove all internal (or generally unknown) jargon.

We often communicate with insider language that isolates those who aren’t “in the know.” Perhaps it makes us feel smarter—a member of some inner circle—to use esoteric terms. But anytime there’s an inner circle, there are people left outside.

Bottom line: Don’t create barriers with language. When it’s time to introduce denser language, introduce it with some context.

Jeff Tippett is a speaker, author, and entrepreneur. This article was adapted from his upcoming book, Unleashing Your Superpower: Why Persuasive Communications Is the Only Force You Will Ever Need. He blogs at www.jefftippett.com.

Read the Sept-Oct 2018 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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