The strawberry jam method: get people to listen

The other day, the World Health Organization (WHO) said some unpleasant things about meat. Namely, that it’s sort of carcinogenic.

This story grabbed the media’s attention, and maybe yours too. But why? Why do certain messages break through the clutter—and how can you do that?

Let’s borrow 3 tactics from WHO:

1) Food: The mere mention of food hooks people. Your next presentation probably isn’t about food. But don’t let that stop you from a quick reference, now and again.

I remember listening to a CEO deliver an all-company, voice mail. “I’m in the kitchen with my kids,” he began, “making strawberry jam.”

The next day, I didn’t remember a single thing he’d said—except for the jam. I don’t even like jam.

That CEO could have been cooking anything—blueberry pancakes, fried eggs, some crispy, carcinogenic bacon. Food gets attention.

2) Audience: Your audience wonders, “Why should we listen to you? We’ve got lots of important things on our mind right now. For instance, food.”

Give them a reason to listen—right away.

Your proposition sounds like this: “Audience, if you listen, you’ll either GET something good, or else you’ll AVOID something bad, such as, in the case of WHO, dying.

Let’s suppose you’re talking about something uninteresting, e.g. new regulations, to an audience that could care less. Your job: make them care more.

Maybe there’s no real benefit to knowing about the regulations, but there’s certainly a cost to not-knowing. What is it?

Try opening your presentation with a picture: prison.


3) Simplicity: Less beats more. Consider the WHO message, “Meat is carcinogenic!” Just 3 words.

On the other hand, WHO also had a message about processed meat (it’s worse than meat!). But that message is more complicated.

“Processed?” Does “processed” include the smoked turkey I buy once a week from the deli? I have a bad feeling it does.

Suppose WHO said, “If you eat more than 1/2 pound of smoked turkey a week, the odds increase by 17% that you’ll immediately drop dead.”

That might be an important detail, but it’s not the main message. Too long.

Short = memorable.

p.s. You may be wondering, how much meat is safe to eat? WHO basically said, “We don’t know.”

That’s a big problem.

When a message has no call to action, you’re unlikely to act.

In fact, by tomorrow, there’s an excellent chance I’ll have forgotten all about the smoked turkey thing.

© Copyright 2015 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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