Sheep and guy walking off bridge.

Make it Stick

05 September 2013

You’ve got what you think is the perfect idea. It’s relevant. It’s accurate. It’s comprehensive.

Stick Insect 

Whether you are in a client meeting, presenting to a partner, writing a blog or simply passing thoughts round the office, make your idea count. Make it maintain an impact on an audience at any time in any business environment.

The Heath Brothers suggest how you can do this in their book ‘Made to Stick’. Follow the 'SUCCESs' model:

  • Simplicity;
  • Unexpected;
  • Concrete;
  • Credible;
  • Emotional;
  • Stories.

 Let's look at each of these points in more detail.


 Keep expression of your idea short and simple by focussing on what is absolutely vital. Cut to the chase. Interest is maintained. Time is saved. People take away swift, dynamic messages with them.

 Furthermore, focus on the core intention of your idea because while the intricate details provide embellishment and may be accurate for the time-being, they can quickly become obsolete.

 Picture the military. You’re a commander and you’re trying to defend a bridgehead. Your orders would start with, or always hark back to, your objective. Fine details of how exactly the bridge will be defended will change if unpredictable circumstances prevail - the weather changes, a key asset is destroyed or the enemy acts in a way you didn’t expect them to. It’s the same in business. If you prioritise what you hope to achieve, uncertainties can be resolved without abundant alteration.

 If a message cannot be used to make decisions or predictions it is without value, no matter how accurate or comprehensive it is.


Get people’s attention by breaking the pattern of normal logical thought. ‘Rip up the rule book’. Research at the Carnegie Mellon University in the US concludes that people are at their most attentive when a knowledge gap is introduced. There is an irresistible itch that needs scratching.

So before presenting, why not start with a sentiment by which your audience cannot help but be enticed? Why not throw in a statement which goes against some generally accepted preconception or introduce a mystery which needs solving?


Trying to teach an abstract principle without concrete foundations is like trying to start building a house by building a roof in the air. Give your audience something tangible to relate to. According to the cognitive psychologist David Rubin, memory is like a material with thousands of loops. The more hooks an idea has, the better it will cling to memory. Everyone remembers the mottos in the AESOP fables of "The boy who cried wolf" and "The tortoise and the hare" because they can picture the scenario.


Your ideas may contrast those of your audience. The most obvious sources to establish credibility - statistics and external validation - are not always the best. It's easy for your audience to become lost by the significance of a large number if you just state it verbatim. Illustrate a relationship to your central point.

Let's look at an example. Say I'm a protestor lobbying the government to bring UK troops out of Afghanistan. I could quote them a figure that 385 UK troops have died since the inception of the war in 2001. That seems a lot. I could add emphasis to this statistic however by dropping a tomato in sight of the Houses of Parliament for every troop's life lost (the tomato juice splashing everywhere would represent the fact that too much blood has been shed in the conflict).


What's in it for your audience? It's up to you to make the audience care. Create empathy. Show that your ideas are associated with them. Appeal to their self-interest – to who they are now and to who they would like to be in, say, 10 years time. If presenting to trainee solicitors for example, don't just talk about what trainees do on a day-to-day basis but talk about skills which will help them if they become associate or partner.


Stories provide causal relationships that people have not recognised before. They highlight unexpected, resourceful ways in which people have solved problems.

They are an especially effective method for communicating ideas because they cause audiences to simulate pictures in their minds. In evoking simulation, stories are the catalyst necessary for an audience to get ready to act.

Stories embody the SUCCESs framework. They are concrete. Given the right topic, they are emotional and unexpected. If they reflect your core message, one which affects your agenda, they also fit within the bounds of simplicity.


Too many ideas are wasted in business not because of the quality of the thought process that has gone into them, but because they have not been expressed effectively. Next time you have an idea, make sure this is not true of you as well. Follow the Heath Brothers' 'SUCCESs' model to 'make your idea stick'.

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