Making It Stick
Your PowerPoint is a snooze. Your ideas are lame. But all is not lost. Use these tips to glue your ideas (and products) to the public
Still, there are other, equally effective ways to demonstrate credibility, the Heaths say. Take Safexpress, a FedEx-style shipping company based in India. Safexpress promises its customers safe, on-time delivery of their packages, and since its founding in 1995, it has grown by leaps and bounds. But when Rubal Jain, a member of the company's founding family, sought out the business of a major Bollywood studio recently, the moviemakers balked at working with a company in piracy-riddled India. Jain needed credibilityand fast.
Instead of using data to make his case, thoughpointing out, for example, that more than 98 percent of Safexpress's deliveries arrive on timeJain found a better way. He told the Bollywood executive he was negotiating with the story of how Safexpress, in 2003, had safely distributed the latest Harry Potter novel in Indiaan incredibly complex process that involved delivering nearly 69,000 copies into bookstores all over the country at precisely 8 a.m. on the morning of the release. Jain also knew, based on an earlier conversation, that the exec's brother had just completed his high school board examswhich, Jain told him, Safexpress had delivered on time as well. "Now, that's sticky!" says Dan. The combination of the two stories was far more compelling than any number Jain could have used. It certainly convinced the studio. The deal was signed in two months.
Making an idea compelling is one thing. Getting someone to act on it is another. Once again, though, the Heaths say, too many managers blindly push their charts or graphs when making employees feel something is much more likely to inspire action. They point to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2002 that demonstrated just how much an emotional appeal can trump one based on hard facts. In the study, researchers looked at how more than 10,000 teenagers responded to two different antismoking TV commercialsthe emotion-based "Truth" campaign, which featured teens piling up body bags outside the offices of a Big Tobacco company, and an analytical, fact-based series of ads sponsored by Philip Morris called "Think. Don't Smoke." The researchers weren't surprised to find that the emotional ads were more memorable: 22 percent of teens recalled seeing the "Truth" commercials while only 3 percent remembered the "Think" spots. But they were shocked by how much more the emotional ads motivated teens to take action. After seeing the "Truth" ads, 66 percent of viewers said they were less likely to smoke. The "Think" teens, meanwhile, said they were 36 percent more likely to smoke.
There is a reason that politicians use emotional, negative campaign ads and that charities seek donations with touching stories of a suffering child, says Dan: "Emotion sparks action."
If there is one piece of advice the Heaths have for managers struggling to breathe life into their ideas, it is this: Tell a story. For the past five years, Chip has been running a simulation in a class he teaches at Stanford called "Making Ideas Stick" that demonstrates how much the average business presentation fails to live up to a well-told tale. After giving a class of M.B.A. students detailed numbers on U.S. property crime rates, Chip asks them to make impromptu, 60-second speeches for or against tougher crime laws. Under pressure, the students fall into the same trap most speakers do: The typical student uses 2.5 statistics in a one-minute talk. Only 1 in 10 tells a story.
Chip then distracts the class for 10 minutes by showing a clip of a Monty Python movie. When it's over, he asks the students what they remember about the presentations. "There's this kind of nervous laughter that goes around the room," says Chip. Only 1 out of every 20 people in the class is able to recall any individual number from any of the presentations they heard. When the speaker told a story, on the other hand, about a personal experience with property crime, two out of three students remembered. "You can take the moral out of a story, but you can't reconstruct the story out of the moral," says Dan. Stories may not fit neatly into a spreadsheet or a PowerPoint, but the more managers rely on narrativesinstead of charts and graphsto share their ideas, the less sleep the rest of us will be getting in their meetings.