In the book Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, the authors propose Six Principles of Sticky Ideas that contribute to a message being remembered as opposed to overlooked, disregarded, or forgotten. Those principles are: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.
I spent my last eight years with Marriott working as a corporate trainer. One of the courses I co-facilitated with another instructor was a 3-day public speaking class. On days 2 and 3 of the class, each participant made an 8-10 minute presentation to the class that was evaluated by an instructor as well as his classmates. I bet I taught this class 40 times during my career. Given an average class size of 12, delivering two presentations each (of which I evaluated half), a couple of quick calculations suggest that I observed 480 presentations totaling 72 hours.
Today (perhaps nine years removed from my last class), of those presentations, I can vividly recall exactly one. It was in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2004. On the second day of the class, a participant named Chris stood before the group to share an important lesson that he learned as a child:
While in middle school, he had an altercation with another boy on the way home from school. At first they had only exchanged words from a distance, but then Chris picked up a small, triangular shaped rock and threw it in the direction of the boy, striking him right between the eyes and sending him running home crying.
Hours later, Chris’s father received a phone call from the boy’s parents explaining what had occurred and the fact that their son received several stitches above his nose and was continuing to apply ice to reduce the swelling around one eye. When his father hung up the phone, he confronted his son about the incident. Looking down in shame, Chris admitted to throwing the rock. With that, his father said, “Get your coat. We’re going for a drive.”
When he asked his father where they were going, he said, “We’re going to the place where you threw the rock.” During the drive, Chris’s father shared the details of the injury suffered by the boy. When they arrived at the scene of the altercation, the car pulled onto the shoulder, the two got out, and Chris was instructed to find the rock. Not just any rock – the very rock he had thrown.
Chris protested, saying, “Dad, it was a small rock. There are hundreds of rocks out here. How am I going to find the exact rock that I threw?” His father responded, “Well, I reckon you have about two hours of daylight left and, if you don’t find it by sunset, we can return with a flashlight.”
After an hour of scouring an area of brush, Chris found the small, triangular shaped rock – the actual rock he had thrown at the boy. When he presented it, his father said, “Son, starting right now, I want you to carry that rock with you at all times. Let it be a reminder of what happened here today and of your responsibility, to yourself and others, to always make a good choice. When I ask to see the rock, I want you to have it.”
As Chris shared this story, others in the class were visibly moved and drawn to the powerful lesson he learned that day so many years ago. What happened next produced a collective gasp from the entire group: with a deep sense of reverence, Chris removed from his pocket and held up a small, triangular shaped rock – the very rock he’d been carrying for years as a lasting reminder of a father’s lesson in personal responsibility.
Now, that was a memorable story, huh? Let’s apply the Heath brothers’ Six Principles of Sticky Ideas to see why:
Simplicity: The idea of accepting personal responsibility for one’s actions is quite simple.
Unexpectedness: I hadn’t expected Chris’s father to respond the way he did. Nor did I expect to see the actual rock that was the focal point of the story.
Concreteness: The rock itself was pretty concrete.
Credibility: Chris’s credibility peaked when he revealed to the class that, years later, he continued to honor his father’s request by carrying the rock with him at all times.
Emotions: Chris definitely evoked emotions (surprise, sympathy, empathy, interest, reverence, curiosity, sadness, regret, shame, outrage) from his audience.
Stories: The presentation itself was a story.
Think about your own situation. Whether you’re developing a presentation, writing a blog post, shooting a video, recording a podcast, or crafting a corporate mission statement, consider these principles and ways that you can apply them to make your ideas memorable.
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