Hello and welcome back to the Business English Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want to look at how you can make your ideas stick.
Just the other day one of my co-workers came to me and said: “I’ve got a killer idea for a new app.” Then he went on to say that… well, I don’t remember exactly what he said. There was something about productivity and something about scheduling… I think.
Let’s face it: ideas are a dime a dozen. And just having a great idea doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t get other people to believe in it. And before you can get anyone to believe in it, you need to help them remember it. You need to make it stick.
So today I want to share a couple of tips for helping your ideas stick. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving a presentation, proposing something in a meeting, or pitching to investors. The secrets to stickiness are the same.
The first thing you need to do is to keep it real. For one thing, that means avoiding abstract nouns. Think about the word “solution.” It means zip if you don’t tell people exactly what the problem is and how you’re solving it. And don’t try to awe people with the word “innovation.” Impress them by describing what it is that’s actually innovative about your idea. And for Pete’s sake don’t say that your tool will “enhance predictive capabilities” when you can say it will help you “predict the future better.”
That last example shows you something important: verbs have much more power and clarity than nouns. I mean, why say that the new regulations “led to the destruction of” the industry, when you can just say they “destroyed” the industry? Why say “make a decision” when you can just say “decide?” That may seem like a small difference, but when you start piling on all those abstract or academic words, people’s eyes will glaze over. They’ll stop listening. And your idea will have no chance of sticking.
To test whether you’re keeping it real, ask yourself: am I talking about people? Or about ideas? People are real. The things they do are real. And most people are interested in themselves and other people. For example, think about this statement: “The executive announcement of spending cuts provoked a strongly negative reaction.” Where are the people in that statement? It’s much stickier to say, “When the CEO announced spending cuts, people reacted poorly.” Better yet, be more specific and say “people complained angrily.” Can you feel the difference?
There’s one more part of keeping it real that I want to tell you about. Remember back at the start of this lesson, when I talked about my co-worker with the forgettable mobile app idea? Yes, well, it turns out that stories help ideas stick. Telling stories helps us focus on people, rather than ideas. It forces us into concrete reality, and away from that abstract hocus-pocus of “innovation,” “efficiency,” and “optimization.” Stories are an amazing way to transmit information. People have been doing it for thousands of years. And as I explained in a previous lesson, stories help you connect with your listeners.
Now, besides keeping it real, I’ve got another related bit of advice for you: keep it relevant. Last week on a business trip I was hanging out in the lobby of my hotel. And I got to talking with a guy from England. He was really eager to tell me about his big idea, and why I should invest in it. And he started out by describing the economic problems in his hometown. Honestly, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what he was talking about. Then he really lost me when he started using a bunch of soccer analogies. I mean football analogies, as he would say. I don’t know the first thing about soccer.
Needless to say, I didn’t invest in the guy’s big idea. I mean, what does it have to do with me? I really didn’t see how it was relevant to my life. And because he didn’t make his idea relevant to me, I can’t even tell you exactly what his big idea was. It didn’t stick. The only thing that was really significant to me was his failure to connect. I remember him talking about his hometown and about soccer because it amazed me that he thought I might be interested!
So how can you keep it relevant? Talk to people about their own lives and work. Tell them what your idea could mean to them. And use idioms and metaphors that they understand or can relate to. I talked a lot about metaphors in another lesson. Metaphors can be really powerful, but only if you’re connecting with your listeners.
If that guy in the hotel lobby talked about an economic problem that affects my hometown. And if he pulled out some baseball metaphors, things might have been different. His idea might have actually stuck. And I might be able to tell you what his big idea was. But instead, his idea bounced right off me.
All right, I’ve gone over two very important ways of making your ideas stick. First of all, keep it real. That means using concrete language about the real world and real people. And it means telling stories. Secondly, keep it relevant. Talk about things that your listeners actually know or care about. Doing these two things will give you a leg up. And if you tune in next time, I’ll give you two more tips that will help make your ideas stick.
That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.