When we talk about language, it starts simply. Children don’t begin speaking complex sentences, but rather learn to piece together various sounds they hear from adults and older siblings. Eventually, these pieces form coherent words, and those words in turn become sentences; suddenly, you’re having a conversation.
In communicating with an audience, it’s important to know what page they’re on. Speak too complexly and you may offend their intelligence. Also, you don’t want to convolute or water down your message. That’s why I advocate for a simple message.
Albert Einstein said something along the lines of, “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” That rings true, I think, for how you need to pitch in a scenario where you seek to persuade.
When people read, especially in advertisements or when they’re not invested in the material, they scan. That means, as an advertiser or persuader, you have to capture their eye with your content. It means that your message has to be simple; so simple, in fact, that you can capture the gist of its meaning while skimming!
Here’s another fact to keep in mind: The average person reads at about a 7th or 8th grade level. That should inform the way you go about persuading them; otherwise, you’re not focused enough on the consumer and they way he or she is thinking. Speaking or writing at a level higher than that isn’t going to improve your chances to sway them; if anything, it may come across as outright offensive. You’re more likely to lose that person than impress them.
I have a method for you, developed further in my previous book, Unleashing Your Superpower. Here are four tips to crafting a simple message:
- Debrief Yourself: Write out everything you’re trying to say in one place, and go back through it to pick out the good parts; what works and what doesn’t. It helps to get everything onto paper so you can better organize.
- Ask yourself: “What problem does this solve?”: Everyone’s concerned about three main issues: money, wealth and health. What problem are you solving?
- Ask what is crucial. Strike everything else: Get rid of every extraneous word or idea if it isn’t essential to your message.
- Remove all internal (or generally unknown) jargon: If you’re using terms that only “industry insiders” throw around, people are going to be confused. And that means they will stop reading.
I have found value in Owen Fitzpatrick’s 12 Linguistic Strategies that Impact How Others Feel. Here’s a synopsis of those:
- Generalizations: Generalizations are useful when you’re trying to make a general point, without nailing down something too specific. Be wary of overuse, as too many generalizations will make it sound like you aren’t sure about your message or are hedging too often.
- Exaggerations: Here again, you’re making a general point, but this time in an extreme or hyperbolic way. Once again, too much exaggeration will detract from your overall point, but a few well-placed will go a long way.
- Superlatives: These are great for ranking things, and showing how different ideas interact with one another. The best, or the greatest, for example. Best used in moderation, otherwise they become meaningless.
- Metaphors: Remember these from English class? Metaphors are useful tools to compare two seemingly unlike things, particularly when trying to prove a point.
- Emotionally intense words: If someone is saying how strongly they feel about multiple things, do you truly believe they are strongly attached to all of them? Again, use sparingly.
- Euphemisms: These can be useful when you want to talk about something without directly using the traditional nomenclature; or, broaching difficult topics by flirting with the actual meanings of the word.
- 3’s: Often, we hear speeches and statements collected into groups of threes. Humans seem to be wired for lists of three, so keep that in mind in your writing: if it makes sense, groups of three are the best bet.
- Rhyming: Rhyming words are easier to remember for the audience, and will take less reinforcement. Their minds will fill in the blank when you provide them with the phrase again.
- Contrast: One of the best ways to make yourself sound good is to compare against something bad. Contrasts exist everywhere, and are quite compelling. You can use a well-thought out contrast to position yourself and build a narrative about how you or your product is superior to the competitors.
- Rhetorical Questions: These are useful because you provide both the question and the answer. You create an atmosphere that feels like a give and take, but you control both the way a question is phrased and can push the audience toward your preferred answer.
- Counter-intuitive statements: There are few things better than a shocking or surprising statement that runs against the expectations of your audience– especially when it’s true. Something that takes a moment to understand or reckon with is a great way to capture attention.
- Promises: Promises are a powerful way to get across a message quickly. People react strongly to firm commitments: I will do this, I will do that. Promises can have a powerful, emotional effect.
Now, you have plenty of tools to help ensure your message is simple. Using these tips moving forward will ensure you have the ability to craft a simple message, which is the foundation of converting someone. If your message isn’t simple, they aren’t paying attention.