Making a Message Stick Part 2 Keep it Simple

Do you recall the expression "Keep It Simple Stupid,"  the KISS principle.  One thing that all messages that stick have in common is that they are simple and easy to understand.  A sticky message is something we can understand quickly. 

When you are writing for a busy person, the message must be delivered in the first sentence and if it is of interest the person will read on.  These days they are called "sound bites."  These words are designed to get your attention and relate to things that are meaningful to you. 

Newspaper reporters write the story in a way that gets the key message in the headline and the first paragraph.  Then the article will give more details in the body of the article.  If the initial piece does not interest you then you will not read on.

However simple does not mean that the message is not profound and important.   Many people who are trying to deliver a message think that the message is so important that to make it simple would be misleading.  I recall recently being in church and the priest was talking about mercy and encouraging us to exercise mercy.  I found that I had no idea what he meant.  Mercy is certainly not a simple concept.   I do recall his words but have no idea of the message.

To make a complex issue simple and understandable takes a lot of work and careful use of words.  Considering the essence of your message and working on the first few sentences is critical.  I recall reading that Hemingway spent more time working the initial sentence than any other part of the book.  How many of us recall the words "It was the best of times and the worst of times."  Dickens certainly new how the communicate an idea simply.  

After you have written something, go back and review the first sentence and consider if you have expressed the essence of your idea in a simple way.  You can provide more details in the body of the piece but make sure the first sentence works. 

The opposite of simple is an academic paper.  The words and ideas are designed to be only accessible to the most determined.  The person writing the article or paper must think that to be intellectually honest the writing must express the complexity of the problem.     

My partner, Harvey Gellman, would say to us often, "I am a simple man so please make it simple for me."  He continually challenged us to keep our message simple so that people will understand and remember our message.  I suggest we all work on keeping our message simple if we want it to stick.  

However simple is good but not enough.  Future blogs will reveal more principle of making a message stick.  

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