Made To Stick (6/6): Using stories to engage

Once Upon A Time: Use stories to engage your audience

Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth. 
― Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Did you ever stop to think that stories have helped humans survive?

Long before books, there were stories. We told them around campfires and cave mouths for millennia. It’s how collected wisdom passed to future generations.

Without stories, our forebears would have kept making the same mistakes. And DIED.

So stories are in our DNA. People love them.

But are they appropriate at work?

Neuroscience is showing they’re not only appropriate, but essential.

Stories drive action through simulation (how to act) and inspiration (giving the energy to act). Using stories to engage is a powerful way to help people understand your message, remember it, and act on it.

‘Stories’ is the final S in the Heath Brothers’ Made to Stick SUCCES model. (The rest are here.)


The ultimate engager

Bullets and benefits aren’t bad, but it’s not long before they give your audience MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over).

Start telling a story, however, and people’s attention spikes. As a trainer and speaker, I see my audiences respond better to facts delivered in stories than in any other format.

You’ll be surprised how easy it is to find good stories you can use.

Need to get some budget approved? You could talk about when you bought a car; the budget you had determined the quality of what you got at the end.

Want your boss to approve new software? Tell the story of how your new cultivator dug out your garden beds: it reduced two days of pick-and-shovel to just two hours’ work. In the same way, your new software will boost your productivity.

Stories are an excellent way to bring an issue or decision to life.

They encourage mental simulation or re-enactment—think how a flight simulator is more effective than a text book for pilots.

Using stories to engage help audiences experience the situation - like a flight simulator

Image source:

Here are three time-proven ways to build a story and make your message stick:

1. The Challenge plot

The underdog story -- use challenging stories to engage

Image source:

The classic underdog story. Rags to riches.

You/your team/your organisation is up against it. Everything is going wrong. But here’s how you’ll snatch victory from the jaws of defeat…

With a little more budget, a little more time, a few more resources, you’ll turn it around.

The key element is that the obstacles are daunting.

Find examples of big challenges that have been turned around. Maybe your organisation’s history contains an underdog story. Perhaps your audience has faced similar issues. Maybe a famous historical figure succeeded when it looked like failure was imminent.

Telling the story of adversity reversed will spark new courage in your readers or listeners.


2. The Connection plot

Want to inspire people to give better customer service? Be kinder to their neighbours? More tolerant of diversity?

The Connection plot can bridge the gap.

A possibly apocryphal story like this is told to Nordstrom department store staff to encourage top customer service: A customer walked in with a tyre, and asked for a refund. Although Nordstrom had never sold tyres, the clerk gave him a refund.  That story is much ‘stickier’ than a plaque saying, ‘The customer is always right.’

What stories can you dig up from your managers, staff or customers?


3. The Creativity plot

Need a new solution to an old problem? To inspire innovation? Try the Creativity plot.

These stories are about long-standing puzzles that were solved.

Like Copernicus, who created the model proving Earth revolved around the Sun, not vice versa.

Or the Large Hadron Collider, revealing the mystery of the Higgs boson and the origins of the universe.

Or Dan Brown’s character, Robert Langdon, who solves the Da Vinci Code. (See how popular the Creativity plot is?!)

The Da Vinci Code used creative stories to engage

Image source: Columbia Pictures/Imagine Entertainment/Skylark Productions

How could your project, job application, new procedures, budget request or report solve a long-standing problem in your organisation or industry?

Tell a Creativity-plot story to capture your readers’ imagination, and make your message stick.



So what’s your story? Could you use stories to engage your audience so they want to know more?

Just keep it short, simple and sensory to make it ‘sticky’. In fact, follow the SUCCESs principles, and you can’t go wrong!

I’d love to hear your thoughts: got a good example of using stories effectively at work? Let me know in the comments below.


Paul & the Magneto/Credosity team

P.S. One of the most loved storytellers ever was Ernest Hemingway. One secret to his success? Super-easy-to-read text. The Old Man and the Sea had a reading grade level of only 4. Most business writing clocks in at grade 10 or above: hard to read. Credosity, our virtual writing coach, resurrects your readability! Try it free, for 30 days. Works in Outlook and Word.

Made to Stick (5/6): Use emotion to engage

Use emotion to engage

$100m decision: heart or head?

Here’s a statistic that surprises almost everyone who hears it.

Imagine you were the CEO of a large organisation, deciding on a $100 million project.

How much of your decision would be based on tangible facts? And how much on instinct and emotions?

You might think such critical decisions would be based on evidence. Surely emotions and feelings would be irrelevant when the stakes are so high?

Wrong. Very wrong.

Seth Rogen

Image source:

According to bid-consulting firm Rogen (no, not the actor), 70% of the decisions of multi-million dollar bid decision makers are based on emotions and instinct.

And only 30% on facts.

Huh? That’s what I hear from most audiences when I share this. But there’s one particular audience I don’t hear it from: CEOs.

CEOs agree: Instinct trumps facts

I’ve shared that finding with several CEO Institute syndicates, and they just nod. ‘Yep. We know.’

When we analyse huge, complex purchases, our rational, left brain ‘fills’ fast. There’s only so much we can keep in mind. So we end up relying heavily on intuition: ‘That company looks good on paper, but I have a bad feeling about them.’

Don’t ignore your hunches. Research shows we’re aware of things subconsciously well before we’re consciously aware.  It turns out that the right side of your brain processes information much faster than your left.

Besides that, the fact-based approach can simply fail. If someone has taken a view on an issue, proving they’re wrong is unlikely to budge them.  As Druckman and Bolsen found, ‘facts have limited impact on initial opinions’.

The way around this is to use emotion to engage. It’s powerful. That’s the E in the Heath Brothers’ SUCCESs model, from their brilliant book, Made to Stick.

Have you come in late? We’ve covered these from the SUCCESs model so far:

Appealing to feeling: Use emotion to engage

If you want your ideas, messages and presentations to stick, you have to make your audience care. They need to feel something.

For example, in Jamie Oliver’s TED presentation. He could have simply said kids eat X grams of sugar per day. And his audience would have tut-tutted, but forgotten it.

Instead, he emptied a wheelbarrow of sugar on stage. The audience felt horror, shock, disgust, sadness, anger. And they remembered.

How about you? Can you trigger an emotion in your reader or listener to make your point memorable? How can you use emotion to engage?

Of course, you’ll need to decide which emotion to evoke. Fear in teenagers could backfire. Greed could make your boss choose poorly. (A red Lamborghini? For the love of God, why not yellow??)

Here are three keys to generating emotion when you’re communicating at work:


It’s not that people are selfish. Well, okay, maybe a bit. But we’re all definitely caught up in our own world. A world of needs like love, money, security, friendships, confidence, satisfaction.

WIIFM - What's In It For Me? An essential ingredient for using emotion to engage

Image source:

WIIFM isn’t the name of a US radio station. It stands for ‘What’s In It For Me?’ It’s Marketing 101, but it’s amazing how often people forget to apply it.

Before you send your message, stop and think about your audience. Stand in their shoes. If you were them, what would be in it for you? How can you engage their self-interest? Will approving your project make their life easier? Will it reduce complaints? Will it get them home earlier?

Perhaps it’s about the people they want to be. Or the people they wish they weren’t. A liberal ladle of WIIFM will dial up the emotion in your messages.

2. The power of association

One of the best ways to get people to care, and ideas to stick, is to associate what they care about with what they don’t.

I saw a great example of this years ago: a TV ad from the UK. It showed a well-dressed small boy climbing carefully down some stairs. Like toddlers do.

He enters an underground public toilet. It’s grotty, filthy, foul.

UK ad - Child drinking from toilet. An example of how you can use emotions to engage your audience.

Source: YouTube

He goes into a cubicle. Kneels down. And starts drinking water out of a toilet bowl.

The voiceover says, ‘Did you know that, each year, 5 million children in the third world die from drinking water polluted with faeces’ … You get the message.

Suddenly, something we may not care about (the quality of water in developing countries) becomes very real and personal.

Can you do the same with your message? Think about your audience, and their wants and needs. How can you engage those to make your message stick?

Perhaps they care about golf. Can you find a golfing analogy or connection with a project that needs support, or an initiative that needs funding?

The more you can find out about your audience, the more emotional levers you’ll have to connect with and engage them.

3. Identity: Remind them of who they are

We all like to feel part of something. We have an identity. I’m an Australian, a dad, a speaker, a Game of Thrones fan.

Similar to the power of association, can you connect with an identity of your audience and use that?

Republic of Texas - Engaging emotions to make ideas stick by connecting and identifying with others

For example, the state of Texas in the US had a big litter problem. Appeals to common sense failed. So they asked famous Texans to send a message. George Foreman, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan. It worked beautifully.

Maybe you can use your audience’s peers at work, in their sporting club or in their home life to appeal to their emotions.

Logic, facts and reason are great ways to persuade people. But never forget emotions—they’re behind every sticky message. Using emotion to engage is one of your big guns.

Next up: Lucky last—keep an eye out for our last ezine in this ‘Made to Stick’ series. It’s the last S of SUCCESs … coming soon!


Paul & the Magneto/Credosity Team


P.S. Whoa! Wait. I just felt something … yes. There it is again: an emotion. As I’m writing this, thinking about you, I’m feeling … ANTSY. Because some of you think your communication skills are fine. But in my 10 years of corporate training and speaking, I’ve realised a LOT of people suffer from Excessive Self-Regard Tendency.  Just in case you have some blind spots (hint, hint), check your writing with Credosity before you send it. Better writing, faster—in Microsoft Word and now Outlook, too. Start your free trial now!

Making Ideas Stick (4/6): Without cred, you’re dead

Boost cred to make ideas stick

So far, in the Heath brothers’ SUCCESs model of what it takes to make ideas and messages stick, we’ve looked at:

That’s all well and good. But why should your audience believe you?

The second C of SUCCESs stands for Credibility.

Boost cred to make ideas stick

Truth. Next Exit.

[Image source:]

People tend to believe other people with authority. That could be you, or it could be someone else – an external authority.

For example, with my credentials as a copywriter and trainer, I could tell you it’s important to clean your teeth every day.

Don’t believe me? Not surprising (nor do my kids). My authority is in a different arena.

But if I tell you 9 out of 10 dentists say cleaning your teeth is important, that has impact.

Improve credibility by referring to an authority

[Not a lollipop. Image source:]

So, too, with your message. Do you have the authority to be credible, or will you need an external authority?

Let’s say you’re introducing a new compliance process for workplace safety. Is it enough that you say the process has to be applied? How much more powerful if you say ‘According to Safe Work Australia, 17 workers died in similar accidents in 2015’.

Credibility is a key ingredient in getting your message believed, remembered and actioned. You have to boost cred to make ideas stick.

Here are three ways to boost the credibility of your messages:

1. Authorities vs. anti-authorities

An authority to give your message believability could be:

  • You: if you have the credibility
  • An external source: a quote, expert source or testimonial
  • An anti-authority: someone who hasn’t implemented the idea, and suffered as a result.

The first two are simple enough. Perhaps the third option is more surprising.

Improve credibility by referring to an anti-authority

[Image source: YouTube Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Terrie’s ad]

Examples of using an anti-authority would be:

  • a smoker dying from cancer saying smoking is dangerous
  • someone in a wheelchair promoting a new workplace safety initiative
  • an organisation that went bankrupt because it ignored ethical issues.

You’ll find plenty of examples of anti-authorities. They can have great impact as examples of what can happen if people don’t apply the right guidelines or processes.

For example, Kodak has almost disappeared as a brand because they didn’t invest in future technology. They were complacent.

And the Sydney Opera House would be just a building site if further funds to develop the plans weren’t found.

History is littered with examples you can use of what happens when action isn’t taken. A negative image and story – an anti-authority – can often be a powerful motivator.

2. Statistics count

Cancer kills 2 out of 3 Australians. 9 out of 10 bosses make decisions based on facts. 7 out of 10 doctors recommend exercise for depression.

Whether those facts are correct or not (Google them to see!), statistics do a great job of providing proof and credibility.

What facts and figures do you have? What could you dig up? Can you use them to persuade?

As they say, you can’t argue with facts! (While that’s true, you often need more than just facts, as you’ll see in the section on Pathos/Heart in my post here.)

3. Frank Sinatra

To improve credibility, prove your product or service has succeeded elsewhere.

[Image source:]

In Ol’ Blue Eyes’ famous hit, New York, New York, Frank sings ‘If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.’

It’s a good rule of credibility: if your suggestion, product or service has succeeded elsewhere, saying so adds weight to your proposal.

Think of the classic line, ‘As used by NASA’. Well, with all their money and resources, surely they’d pick only the best? Your association with another client or user of a product/service can seriously boost your cred.

Find out if the product or service has been successfully used elsewhere, if any contractors have implemented a similar solution, or simply Google to find similar solutions.


Once you’ve surprised and engaged your audience, back it up. Make sure they have good reason to believe you. Statistics, testimonials and case studies are ideal ways to do this.

Do your homework and find the facts to support your case.

NEXT: You’ll be happy, excited, inspired and overjoyed to hear our next ezine in the SUCCESs series, the ‘E’, covers the powerful role Emotions play in making messages stick. Don’t be sad; it’ll be on our blog page soon!


Paul & the Magneto/Credosity Team


P.S. Here’s a good statistic: You spend up to two-thirds of your week writing, so your effectiveness hinges on how good a writer you are. Great writers get promoted. Lousy writers don’t. Check out our courses, starting 12 February 2016!

P.P.S. Have you tried Credosity? It’s our just-in-time productivity and learning tool for Microsoft Word. Use it to be a better, sharper communicator. Here’s an anti-authority testimonial: ‘Maybe I’d still have a job if I’d used Credosity.’ Start your free trial now!


The Write Way to Get Your Way (Thanks, Aristotle)

Arm wrestling - Aristotle had a better way

The Rule of Thump

Got younger siblings? When you were a kid, I’ll bet you used the Rule of Thump: If you wanted something your younger brother had, you just took it.

Might was right (you thought).

But unless you’re running a North Korean dictatorship, that won’t work so well now – least of all in business.

Management expert, Ken Blanchard, said:

‘The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.’

And here’s the good news: Influence is largely a science. If you study it, and apply the principles, you’ll improve your results – perhaps dramatically.

See-saw influence

Persuasion is like a see-saw: ‘yes’ is on one side, and ‘no’ is on the other.

If you need to persuade someone, their see-saw is leaning on ‘no’. It’s weighed down by beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, culture, inertia and more.

(if it was already on ‘yes’, you’re not persuading; you’re informing. You don’t have to persuade a five-year-old to eat a jelly bean. Tell them it’s there, and then it won’t be.)

So to get a ‘yes’, you need to lighten the ‘no’ side, and add weight to the ‘yes’ side. You can do that with conscious and subconscious persuaders.

Conscious persuaders

Aristotle's Pathos, Logos, Ethos to persuade and influence

Some conscious persuaders include those Aristotle discussed 2500 years ago:
1. Pathos (Heart)
2. Logos (Head)
3. Ethos (Cred)


Subconscious persuaders

And some subconscious persuaders include human biases, such as Dr Robert Cialdini’s influence principles:

1. Reciprocity
2. Liking
3. Social Proof
4. Commitment & Consistency
5. Scarcity
6. Authority

We’ll touch on the first list here. For a summary of Cialdini’s subconscious persuaders applied to business writing, email with ‘Magneto Incognito Influence’ as your subject header and we’ll send it to you.

Aristotle’s tricycle

Think of Pathos, Logos and Ethos as three wheels on a tricycle. You need all three to move your reader, to influence them.

Pathos: HEART

Use Aristotle's Pathos to persuade

As humans, our crowning glory is rational thought. We’ve built the pyramids, visited Pluto, and invented the ‘cronut’ (an OMG croissant/donut). So if someone isn’t convinced by what we’re saying, well, they simply need more facts, right?

Not always. Researchers Druckman and Bolsen (‘Framing Technologies’, Journal of Communication 61, 2011) found this:

‘… facts have limited impact on initial opinions …’

Why? Because we decide emotionally, and justify rationally.

Neuroscience professor, Antonio Damasio, said, ‘We’re not thinking machines that feel. We’re feeling machines that think.’

Ignore how your reader feels about your message, and they’ll shut down. But show empathy, and they’re likely to open up.

Got empathy?

Daniel Goleman, in his bestseller Working with Emotional Intelligence, proved that EQ, emotional intelligence, is critical. It turns out that EQ is twice as important to high-performing leadership than IQ (intelligence).

It’s no wonder, when 90 percent of our positive or negative impressions of people are based on ‘warmth’ and ‘strength.’ When we meet someone, we’re preoccupied with two questions:

1. What are their intentions towards me?
2. Do they have the power to carry them out?

This research by Amy Cuddy (Harvard Business Review: ‘Connect, Then Lead’) suggests that to avoid alienating your team, connect first, then show strength/expertise.

It’s not about the facts that you’re their leader. It’s about how they feel that you’re their leader.

Other research (Zenger & Folkman – from the same HBR article above) showed that strongly disliked leaders only have a 1 in 2000 chance of being considered effective.

To apply Pathos/Heart:

  • Show you appreciate how your reader is feeling about your message.
  • Use stories to make your messages memorable.
  • Be ‘sold’ on your idea yourself (emotions are contagious).
  • Bring messages to life with visuals like photos, cartoons and video.

Logos: HEAD

Using Aristotle's Logos to persuade

Pathos above, gets you in the door. But once inside, if you don’t convince them, you’ll be shown the door.

They have to want what you have.

At the end of ‘The Wolf of Wall St’ movie, DiCaprio’s character tells a room full of wannabes to ‘Sell me this pen.’

Their responses are classic: ‘This is a beautiful pen. It works very well …’

It’s the most common persuasion error: Hard sell. No one likes being sold to. One sniff of that, and the walls go up.

We do, however, like to buy.

So stop trying to sell. Start trying to help. Help them get what they need. Don’t be a salesperson. Become an assistant buyer.

How? First smell out their needs by asking questions. First smell. Then sell.

Don’t mind the gap; find the gap. Nature abhors a vacuum. Open a gap in your reader’s mind, and they’ll want to fill it.

To apply Logos/Head:

  • Tease, don’t tell. Ask questions first, before giving answers. Make them realise they don’t know what you’ve got for them.
  • Lead with their need. Get their attention with a need or problem you know they have.
  • Frame your message in terms of what’s in it for them, not you. Talk benefits first, cost later.

Ethos: CRED

Using Aristotle's Ethos to persuade

Okay. So you’ve connected with them with Pathos, and convinced them with Logos.

Are we there yet?

Not quite.

Heart plus Head with no Cred equals a dodgy used-car salesperson.

Trust is critical. Here’s how to build it.

To apply Ethos/Cred:

  • Make it engaging and easy to read. Credosity is brilliant for this (
  • Check and double-check your work – your facts and your writing. Typos, bad grammar and inconsistent layout make people think you’re sloppy.
  • Use an authoritative tone. Not, ‘Like to buy from me?’ but, ‘Usually the best next step is to meet to scope out your needs. Are you free tomorrow?’
  • Be dependable. Do what you say you’ll do. Follow through.
  • Quantify to boost your cred. Specifics sell. Don’t say ‘System X is significantly faster than System Y.’ Say, ‘System X is 45 percent faster than System Y.’
  • Let readers/listeners know you’re an expert. Been in the game for 20 years? Done research on this topic? Got an MBA? Let them know (maybe subtly, so you don’t seem a braggart).
  • Admit a weakness – a minor one, not a major one! For example, ‘We’re not the biggest, but that gives you more personal attention.’

Use your powers for good, not evil

Finally, the best persuasion tip of all is to make sure it’s a win-win. You win. They win. If it’s win-lose, you’ll lose in the long run. Once your name is mud and trust is gone, no amount of persuasive psychology can save you.

Make a career-unlimiting move

Congratulations on reading to here – you’re clearly committed to this.

We’ve covered a lot of ground. But it’s just a taster. Are you really hungry to master influence? Great! Because I’m dishing out the whole enchilada at two live events shortly:

  1. ‘Writing to Influence’ webinars: Two short sessions with me online, 16 and 23 October 2015 (not either/or; you’d do both)
  2. Live on the Gold Coast for Business Chicks: An in-the-flesh session at the QT Hotel on the gorgeous Gold Coast on 10 November 2015. This is the culmination of a national tour I’ve done for Business Chicks. Attendees have loved them, and said nice things like:

‘I can’t believe how many light bulb moments I had. I’m going to spend the rest of the day reinventing our proposals and templates!’ *

Jump on the Business Chicks ‘Events’ page and grab your seat now!

P.S. Seen the post? Get the infographic!

Like a copy of the Heart-Head-Cred infographics above all sewn together on one handy reference page for your desk or team? Email with ‘heart head cred’ as your subject header. We’ll send it to you pronto!

*An attendee at the Perth event said this, not my mum.


Paul Jones (Director, Magneto Communications and co-founder, Credosity) is a charismatic presenter and corporate communications expert. He’s on a mission to save the world from bad writing, and help good people get more of what they want. More: and


A version of this article was originally published in Business Chicks ‘Latte’ magazine – 10th-anniversary edition (September 2015).

Do you use A-list persuasive strategies, or B-list?

When you were growing up, which of your siblings got their way more often?

Usually it’s the eldest, because they’re the biggest. (I should know; I’m the eldest of six kids.)

When I ask our course attendees for their persuasive strategies, they usually think of the ‘B’ list:

  • Beg (‘C’mon Meg, we really need this project approved. PLEASE?’)
  • Bribe (‘Hey, approve this and I’ll get you some new staff.’)
  • Bully (‘John, I need this approved ASAP’ — and you see the Big Boss is copied in on the email)
  • Blackmail (‘If you don’t approve this, I’ll have no choice but to take it to the Big Bwana.’)

But these are blunt instruments. The B-list isn’t for you — you’re an ‘A’-lister. It’s time you upgraded to some sharper tools!

For the first time ever, we’re running a ‘Writing to Influence’ class online. Check it out below (see the ‘lemon’ guy). This is an intensive version of our full-day, in-house-only ‘influence’ course. 

And if you want to ramp up your writing skills across the board — writing to persuade, inform, deliver difficult messages and more — we’re running another online writing masterclass in October (see the ‘5 times’ header below). 

What about you? Can you add more to the persuasion ‘B’ list? Brainwash? Browbeat?? Share it in the comments below!


Paul & the Magneto/Credosity Team

P.S. Tried Credosity yet? We’ve just finished a major revamp, based on feedback, and it’s rocking! This Microsoft Word add-in helps you write better, faster! Take a peek (yours free for a month).

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Top Books: Persuasion, Psychology, Comms

Harry S. Truman had it right…

‘Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers!’

What price an idea? One good idea can set you up for life. And the lack of them sends careers and companies to their graves.

Here are some of my all-time favourite books. Many of them I’ve read several times over. And some I haven’t read at all — I’ve listened to them (usually several times over) as audiobooks. (I use Audible and their smartphone app.)

So take a deep breath, whip out your Kindle and feast your mind on these. Your career will thank you.

P.S. We’re always looking to grow our bookshelf and brain. Got a favourite? Tell us.

Persuasive, engaging communication

madetostick Resonate HBRGuide

Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die, Chip and Dan Heath

Resonate: Present visual stories that transform audiences, Nancy Duarte

HBR Guide to Better Business Writing (HBR Guide Series), Bryan A. Garner

General influence

Influence  Yes smallbig winfriends verbaljudo

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition, Robert Cialdini

Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive,  Noah J. Goldstein Ph.D., Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini Ph.D.

The small BIG: Small Changes that Spark Big Influence, Steve Martin, Noah Goldstein, Robert B. Cialdini

How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie

Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion, Updated Edition, George J. Thompson, Jerry B. Jenkins

Behavioural economics

nudge thinkingfastslow predictably

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely



Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in, Roger Fisher, William Ury


SPINselling secretsofclosingsale

SPIN Selling, Neil Rackham

Secrets of Closing the Sale, Zig Ziglar

Motivating people (& yourself)

switch drive gamechanger

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink

The Game Changer: How to Use the Science of Motivation With the Power of Game Design to Shift Behaviour, Shape Culture and Make Clever Happen, Jason Fox

Tough conversations


Crucial Conversations — Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler


EI 50psychclassics People Styles at Work

Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman

50 Psychology Classics, Tom Butler-Bowdon (good writers are good psychologists)

People Styles at Work…And Beyond, Robert Bolton & Dorothy Grover Bolton. One of the best books on understanding personality types we’ve read. It helps you adapt your communication to suit your reader’s preference.

Business smarts


The Personal MBA — Master the Art of Business, Josh Kaufman (this book is full of smart influence and comms ideas)

Making Ideas Stick (3/6): The Velcro Theory & sweet concrete


Had your sugar hit yet?

In 2010, the famous UK chef, Jamie Oliver, gave a TED talk entitled ‘Teach every child about food’.

To show the amount of sugar in a child’s diet, he brought on a wheelbarrow with the amount of sugar one child would consume in milk drinks alone in five years of elementary school. Then he dumped it on stage.

Making abstract ideas concrete, Jamie Oliver dumping sugar on stage

[Image source: TED]

What he did was take an abstract idea (‘we eat too much sugar’) and made it concrete. The recent Aussie flick, ‘That Sugar Film‘, builds a similar, powerful case for eating less sugar.

Why should you care about making abstract ideas concrete? Because they’re great demonstrations of how to make your ideas stick. They engage the ‘Made to Stick‘ book’s third element in its SUCCESs formula: Concreteness.

‘Concrete’ means something your senses can detect or describe. Experiments show that people are more likely to remember concrete over abstract nouns, e.g. ‘bicycle’ rather than ‘justice’.

Of the six principles in SUCCESs, concreteness is perhaps one of the easiest. (The hardest is probably the first S, ‘Simplicity‘.)

How can you make your simple idea concrete? Like Steve Jobs, with his envelope.

Think about how to bring your presentation, job application or project report to life. Can you use everyday objects, as Jamie Oliver did? Can you turn facts and figures into something tangible?

One powerful way is to show, don’t tell.

Tape recorder

[Image source:]

I remember the story of ad-man John Singleton pitching for an airline account. He walked into the presentation with nothing but a tape recorder (this was a few years ago). He pressed ‘play’, and all his audience heard was the sound of a phone ringing, unanswered. He let it play out.

‘How can I help you,’ he said ‘when your reservations team can’t even pick up the phone!’ (naturally he used slightly more colourful language!).

He could have told them they didn’t answer, but it was much more effective to make it concrete.

How can you do the same? Here are three keys:

1. Use sensory language

Aesop’s Fables are thousands of years old. In The Fox and the Grapes, he writes of a frustrated fox trying to reach grapes high on a vine. The fox kept jumping, but failed. Finally it padded away mumbling, ‘I bet they were sour anyway.’

Today, the phrase ‘sour grapes’ is known in most languages. It’s a sensory idea that has stood the test of time.

Grapes on vine

[Image source:]

Sensory language helps your reader connect with an image, description, action or scene. It connects to the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

Writing a corporate bio? You could say the exec has military experience in Iraq.

Or you could use sensory language:

‘Our new CEO knows the adrenaline of attack sirens. He’s braced for the blast of Scud missiles, and emptied sweat from his gas mask.’ (Thanks Kate Rein,

2. Mental pictures

Man on the moon

[Image source:]

Your brain devotes about a third of its cortex to processing visuals. People love pictures. So paint them for your reader. American president JFK did it wonderfully with his idea of ‘putting a man on the moon’. It seemed impossible, but his vision (see that word?) became reality. It became concrete.

Can you create a solid image in your audience’s mind?

3. The Velcro theory of memory

Velcro works by having lots of tiny hooks. Each fastens into a tiny loop of material. By themselves, they’re weak. But thousands together create a very sticky bond.

The ‘Velcro theory of memory’ says that we try to relate new information to things we already know. The more ‘hooks’, the stronger the connection.

So to make your ideas stick, hook into multiple memory types, e.g. all five senses. Think about people, places, movies, food, events we all grew up with. Can you harness one or more of those to create a connection, making abstract ideas concrete?

Sweet concrete

Making your message more concrete will bring your abstract idea to life. And when you do that, it’s sure to stick in their mind.

Can you think of a good example of making abstract ideas concrete? Please share it in the comments. But grab something sweet first!


Paul & the Magneto/Credosity Team

P.S. Don’t miss my ‘Writing to Influence’ webinar. There’s nothing sweeter than getting ‘yes’ more!

P.P.S. Tried Credosity yet? We’ve just finished a major revamp, based on feedback, and it’s rocking. This Microsoft Word add-in helps you write better. And faster! Take a peek (try it free for a month). See for yourself what everyone else is raving about.

Making Ideas Stick (2/6): Tales of the Unexpected

To make ideas stick, find, instead of mind, the gap

I remember – vividly – seeing a TV ad a few years ago. It was of a Volkswagen Campervan driving along a country road in the early morning. A nice peaceful soundtrack took me back to gentle family holidays.

The van seems to veer a little, now and then.

We see a dump truck coming towards it.

Just as it’s about to pass – BANG! The van slams into the truck. Dreadful mess. Shocking. See the ad for yourself, here: Kombi Night Shift Ad

Kombi and truck collide

[Image source:]

The ad was one of the first to tackle issues of fatigue and driving. The writers could have put up some frightening statistics: ‘35% of crashes in rural areas are caused by sleep debt’. But we kind of know that. If not the percentage, then the effect.

Once you have your reader’s attention (through a simple, clear, new thought), you need to keep that attention.

Break the pattern. Do the unexpected. Like this maths teacher did.

Seth Godin, prolific marketing author and speaker, agrees.

It’s a critical key to persuasive writing. Oh, wait! I’m running some sessions on influential writing in Canberra, Adelaide, Perth and Gold Coast with Business Chicks. These events sold out in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne last year. Jump in!

Now, back to your program:

There’s a famous story about Subway, and a hugely successful ad campaign they developed. They used the story of a man, Jared Fogle, who lost 111 kg by eating Subway sandwiches – eating fast food, no less!

Find an element of surprise, use it to grab attention, and then point out a gap in your reader’s knowledge.

You’ll get to a surprise by really knowing what you’re writing about.

Here are simple ways to capture your reader’s (or listener’s) attention through the unexpected, and make your ideas stick:

1. To make ideas stick, bring numbers to life

The Airbus A380 Super Jumbo has a wingspan of 79.8 metres.

So what? That doesn’t mean anything. Try instead saying ‘A wingspan almost as long as a football field’.

Football field

[Image source:]

See the difference? We find it hard to picture 79.8 metres, but we can all picture – and imagine the impressive size – of a football field.

Rather than a piece of equipment or project costing $100,000, it can be ‘just 2% of our capital outlay last year’.

Find a way to bring numbers to life. Just ‘the cost of a cup of takeaway coffee a day’, for example. This will help give an unexpected perspective on figures that can appear dry and dull.

2. Don’t mind the gap, FIND it

Open gaps in people’s knowledge. Gaps they didn’t even know (unexpectedly) that they had.

Before you can make your ideas stick, your audience has to want them.

Think of how TV news programs do it. They might announce that a ‘new drug is sweeping the teenage community’. And then say ‘The drug may be in your medicine cabinet right now! More after the break…’

It leaves the viewer wanting more.


[Image source: CC-BY-SA-3.0-MIGRATED; Released under the GNU Free Documentation License]

I like the story of Rebecca Fuller, a founder of an organisation devoted to creating tactile museum exhibits. She once started a presentation to a group of museum directors by suddenly turning all the lights off. As they sat in the dark, she said ‘this is what it’s like to be a blind person in most museums. Nothing to learn, nothing to experience.’

She had her audience. She’d focussed them on a problem they didn’t know existed. Now, they wanted to know how to solve it.

3. Tease, don’t tell

Your reader expects a presentation, for example, to be a series of bullet points. Each logical, and spelling out what you want to communicate.


Instead, why not try a series of questions to get the audience thinking for themselves? That’s unexpected. How about asking, ‘What will happen if we don’t follow the new employment guidelines?’ Or, ‘How much is reasonable for us to go over budget: a) $10,000 b) $20,000 c) $50,000?’

When applying for a new position, try not to do what everyone else does: ‘What I’ll bring to the role’. How about asking them what will happen if they don’t employ you? What will be the unexpected repercussions?

When the reader thinks for themselves, it’s far more powerful.

Surprise yourself

In a world where we are inundated with messages, writing the ‘expected’ will simply turn your audience away.

What can you do to surprise with:

  • the way you present?
  • the questions you ask?
  • how you package up facts and figures?

Think unexpected, and you’ll get, and keep, their attention for longer.


Paul and the Magneto Team

P.S. This will surprise you: Poor communication kills HALF of all failed projects. Don’t let yours meet an untimely death! Check out our courses.

P.P.S. Have you tried Credosity? It’s a new productivity and learning tool for Microsoft Word that coaches you to be a better writer. Get it free for a month!

Making Ideas Sticky (1/6): Keep It Simple

Made To Stick book

KISS me: Keep It Simple, Simon

If you haven’t read ‘Made to Stick’, it’s time you did.

Your success at work depends on how well you can get attention for your ideas, and make them stick in your readers’ minds.

In the next six newsletters, I’ll apply the Heath brothers’ ‘sticky’ ideas to your writing at work. Their research shows that ideas stick best with the SUCCESs formula:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

Let’s kick it off with ‘Simple‘:

Saved by simplicity

Last year a client told me his team went to the BIG boss to ask him to approve their project. They’d worked on it for months, and had a 40-slide presentation to convince him.

But after their pitch, he said no.

When they glumly told my client, he exploded: ‘What?! But he needs this project as much as we do!’ He said, ‘Show me your slide deck.’

Of the 40 slides, he took just four, and raced into the big boss’s office. He laid the slides down, and explained the project and its benefits simply and clearly.

The big boss said, ‘Oh! I didn’t realise that. Okay, it’s a yes!’

Trim the fat

Want to simplify? Cut the excess. Trim your message to its core. Complexity loses. Simplicity wins.

‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’
Albert Einstein

Five different roadsigns on one post

Image source:

It’s a good reminder that we tend to over-complicate things, especially when it comes to writing. We want our boss, colleagues and clients to appreciate just how smart we are. That’s why we get paid the big bucks, right?

So we write long presentations. Long reports. Long emails. With lots of words. And the bigger the words, the better.

But your readers are in an infobesity epidemic: Bain & Co. found that business people got around 1000 external communications in 1970. But this mushroomed to 30,000 in 2014.

It also turns out that using long words needlessly makes people think you’re dumber, not smarter.

Which is why ‘Simple’ is key to your ideas sticking:

Cut through the clutter, don’t add to it.

What’s the one thing you want to communicate? What’s at the core of your idea?

Oh, I can hear you now: ‘It’s ALL important!’

Yes, but ‘all’ may mean ‘nothing’, as in the exec above who said no to the 40 slides then yes to the four.

WWJD? (What Would Jobs Do?)

Steve Jobs mastered this.

He sailed through the IT industry’s sea of jargon with simplicity.

Here’s how NOT to do it — this, from the Pentagon, is apparently the most complicated PowerPoint slide in history:

Most complicated PowerPoint slide in history

Image source:

It’s easy to see how this sort of presentation slide gets produced. There’s a complicated story to tell. Let’s make it simple by putting it all on one slide. There you go: at a glance!

But what did Steve Jobs do?

He cut to the core, focusing on the ONE thing he wanted his audience to remember.

When launching the MacBook Air, it was all about how thin it was. So he introduced it like this:

Steve Jobs at MacBook Air launch

Image source: Associated Press,

He simply showed a picture of an inter-office mail envelope. And put a MacBook Air inside one.

Point made. And the crowd went wild.

He could so easily have decided its screen size was also very, very important. As was its RAM. Its battery life. How much of it was recyclable. Its price.

But he didn’t. He focused on its incredible thinness. Everything else can be filled in later.

Besides the principles above, here are three simple ways to keep your messages, well, simpler:

1. Big news first

If you were your audience, what would be the most important to you? What’s new? What’s at stake?

One of my uni professors said to imagine your reader is in a lift, and the doors have started closing. In your whole document, what’s the ONE thing you’d shout to them before they’re gone?

‘We’re over budget!’

‘We need a new machine!’

‘Your husband ran off with the babysitter!’

Think about the one thing you need to get across — the most important, the news, the thing they don’t know. Focus on that. Lead with that.

It’s called the Inverted Pyramid style of writing, championed by journalists across the world:

Inverted Pyramid style of writing diagram


2. Generative analogies

Once you’ve settled on your one key thought, you need to communicate it. A generative analogy — a metaphor that generates new yet familiar ideas in your audience’s mind — works well.

Let’s say you’re applying for a new job. You could say you’re the Leonardo da Vinci of Human Resources: A multi-talented resource able to turn your hand successfully to most things.

Or maybe your big project is over budget. It could be your company’s Sydney Opera House: over budget and running late, but it’ll be a prized and irreplaceable icon for many years.

Analogies help you communicate complicated ideas more easily.

3. Be brutal

Not ‘brutal’ in what you write, but in what you cut.

‘Kill all your darlings.’
William Faulkner

Be like Steve Jobs. Kill anything that isn’t 100 percent new information. Shave it down to the barest thought. It’s not easy; it’s hard. But it’s what separates great writers from average ones: they do the work.

Keeping it simple is a critical skill for you at work. Whether an email, report, job application or presentation, the simpler you make it, the more likely it is to stick.

It’s not about dumbing down. It’s about smartening up through focus.

Next up: the U of SUCCESs … Unexpected!


Paul and the Magneto/Credosity team

P.S. Here’s a simple thought: Learn more, and you’ll EARN more. The more you know how to communicate with impact, the more effective you’ll be at work. Check out our writing masterclass, starting 7 July!

P.P.S. Have you tried Credosity? It’s a super-simple, but super valuable writing tool for Microsoft Word. Make sure you at least take a peek. Or even trial it free for 30 days.


‘That’s simply not logical, Jim.’ The power of Logos to persuade

ethos pathos logos



I was buckling my kids into the car the other day. It struck me that my parents — not so long ago! — didn’t have to. As nippers, we were all thrown onto the bench seat, with a couple in the ‘boot’ of our station wagon (they had six kids). And that was the norm.

70a95166-f895-4d72-b0c1-772fbd61081bPhoto source: Jen Zahigan

Then research showed that wearing seat belts reduced serious injuries by around 60 percent. So, in 1970, Victoria became the first government in the world to make the wearing of seatbelts mandatory. The rest of Australia followed in 1972.

It made sense. The evidence was clear. Now we take it for granted.

The same happened for smoking, drink driving, obesity, immunisation — and many other public-health initiatives.

Not much emotion involved in those. Just simple facts you can’t argue with.


For Aristotle, one of the world’s greatest thinkers and philosophers, logic — or Logos — was the most important of his three persuasive appeals. The other two are Ethos and Pathos.

Whenever you’re writing, it’s important to build your credibility (Ethos), and appeal to your audience’s emotions (Pathos).

But consider this: two politicians make a speech. One speech is full of passion, empathy and experience — but light on substance. The other is dry and boring but packed with reasoned argument, solid facts and figures. Who do you trust more?


THE CAMPAIGN© 2012 Warner Brothers, ‘The Campaign’

Next time you sit down to write an email, report or presentation, ladle in an extra load of logic. It’ll be far more persuasive.

Here are seven techniques to boost your results with Logos:

1. Cause or consequence

Where you can, point out the clear consequences and cause. For example, ‘Greenhouse gases from humans cause global warming.’ Even better if you can then also back it up with an authoritative source (see point #7 below).

2. Analogies

Analogies are a great way of making the topic you’re talking about sound more reasonable. Or poke fun at the opposition, as Al Gore did here: ‘George Bush taking credit for the Berlin wall coming down is like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise.’

3. Testimony & authority

Use the expertise, experience or opinion of another source. This gives your argument more weight. For example, ‘Four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum to their patients’.

4. Use plain language

Simple language makes your argument seem more reasonable. If you need to use jargon and big words to get your point across, your audience may think you’re trying to fool them (the ‘baffle them with bulldust’ approach). Simple words. Clear language. Works every time.

5. Use charts & diagrams

More than half of your brain’s cortex is devoted to vision. Want to get attention quickly? Use a graphic.

A simple chart or diagram goes further — it gets attention and convinces. Think of the impact of a clear pie chart, or how effective an infographic can be. Just don’t make it too complex, or your point will be lost.

6. Personal stories & anecdotes

If you yourself are a credible source, then a personal story will bolster your argument. Your own experiences, when relevant, will be far more potent than someone else’s.

7. Cite your sources

It’s always powerful to include statistics, facts or quotes. But without the source, it means little. Naturally, your source should be credible, and up to date — research from 2013 beats research from 1973.

Finally, consider the difference between Deductive and Inductive reasoning.

  • Deductive reasoning generalises to begin with, then moves to the specific. For example: ‘All humans are mortal [generalisation]. Aristotle is a human. Therefore Aristotle is mortal [specific]’.
  • Inductive reasoning moves from a specific to the general. For example: ‘All observed crows are black [specific]. Therefore all crows are black [generalisation]’.

What do you think? Do you agree with Aristotle that Logos is the most important of the three persuasive modes? I’d love to hear your views in the comments.





Paul and the Magneto Team

P.S. Here’s a good argument: You spend up to two-thirds of your week writing, so your effectiveness hinges on how good a writer you are. Great writers get promoted. Lousy writers don’t. Check out this online business writing course, starting 7 July 2015!

P.P.S. Have you tried Credosity? It’s a just-in-time productivity and learning tool for Microsoft Word. It coaches you to be a better writer. Very logical, very effective! Start your free trial.