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).

Writing to Influence webinars -- persuasive strategies from behavioural economics, copywriting and more


A workshop attendee loving our persuasive strategies: 'Beyond the useful insight shared, the passion and enthusiasm from the workshop was highly infectious and left me on a geeky, wordsmithery high for the rest of the day!'

GET IT WRITE Masterclass online -- keys to clear communication for skim readers, overlaid with clever persuasive strategies!

More about our Get It Write Masterclass.

Limited seats — BOOK NOW 

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.)

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.

What beats a good argument every time? Pathos.

ethos pathos logos

According to research, we’re bombarded by 2,904 media messages daily. We notice 52, and positively remember only 4 (SuperProfile 2010).

Boy, are we swamped!

Add to that our deluge of emails, phone calls, social media and meetings, and is it any wonder we feel overwhelmed?!

Your reader is in the same boat. If you can’t cut through their clutter, you’ll be ignored and waste your time. With their attention so scarce, how can you get them to read your board report? To notice your budget request? To action your group emails?

One sure-fire way is to appeal to their emotions.

I just did exactly that. I appealed to a common sensation for most people — the feeling of drowning in a sea of information.

Through our shared experience, I built empathy, understanding, and a sense of familiarity between us. We connected. You felt I cared.

As Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise once said: ‘Sometimes, a feeling is all we humans have to go on’.

Captain Kirk, Star Trek


Of course, appealing to a reader’s or listener’s emotions is as old as time. It was Aristotle who divided the means of persuasion into three categories — Ethos, Pathos and Logos — of which Pathos, your emotional influence on an audience, is critical.

How Pathos draws your audience in

Think of communications that appeal to you emotionally:

They’re all harnessing Pathos — evoking positive feelings of love, sympathy and compassion, or negative feelings of greed, fear and envy.

Feeling first. Thinking second.
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio said we’re not thinking machines that feel; we’re feeling machines that think. Emotions are powerful motivators for your audience. They grab people’s attention, and make them want to act.

Using Pathos is a wonderfully effective technique to use in your writing. It helps you appeal to your audience’s sense of identity and self interest.

So, here are five simple ways to engage your audiences with Pathos:

1. Sharing breeds caring

Find a connection through shared experiences.

Writing a report due on Friday? Share the fact that it’s been a long week, but ‘here’s something to make next week a bit easier’.

We all share common issues: time, money, health, relationships, the work/life balance. Harness your understanding of those issues, and you’ll provoke empathy in your reader.

As influence expert Cialdini noted, we like to say ‘yes’ to people we like and know on a personal level. Shared experiences can achieve that.

2. Once upon a time … 

Stories are a great way to generate positive emotions.

If the project’s floundering, tell them the story of Walt Disney, fired early in his career because he ‘lacked imagination and had no good ideas’.

Perhaps you’re working on the 5,127th prototype (it took James Dyson that many before he perfected his bagless vacuum cleaner).

Stories of historical challenges cause us to reflect on current issues, and see them for what they are: a stepping stone, not a disaster.

3. No-one is perfect. Not even you!

Admit to your mistakes. Nothing is more off-putting that someone who passes the buck, or hides bad news in business buzzwords.

The only emotions you’ll evoke there are anger and frustration.

Come clean, and you’ll be amazed how often your reader will sympathise.

In fact, try a little MDA: Minor Damaging Admission. Admitting that not everything to do with your proposal is perfect (as long as it’s a minor issue) helps your audience trust you.

4. A picture’s worth a thousand words

Hey, I know we’re talking about words, here. But let’s not forget the power of an image to evoke emotions.

You can say the project is going well. Or you can show a rocket taking off.

Many more emotional pathways are opened when you see the image than when you say the words.

5. Make ’em laugh!

Humour, especially in a business context, evokes joy and surprise. It also makes the reader like you, which is a key component of influence.

JB Hi-Fi

Sharing a funny quote or experience shows you’re human. We can all empathise with that. Just be careful about the style of humour and your audience. Know the limits of taste.


To recap, Pathos is one of three key persuasion elements Aristotle identified: Ethos and Logos being the other two. Combine them seamlessly and you’ll get your way more often than you could have imagined.

What about you? How do you use Pathos to engage your audience’s emotions? We’re keen to hear your experiences: Comment below to see how happy it’ll make you!


Paul and the Magneto Team

P.S. There’s something you should get emotional about, and that’s your writing ability. Your career depends on it. Check out our next online course, starting 3 March 2015!

Is your character convincing? The role of ‘ethos’ in influence

ethos pathos logos

What’s the most important part of an email?

If you said, ‘The subject header!’ you’d be wrong.

When you get an email, you don’t look at the subject header first. You look at the sender. You’ll open an email with NO subject header if it’s from your boss.

And when you’re arguing for something (a proposal, a request), your success depends on your reader’s perception of YOU.

As Deepak Chopra said, ‘WHO you are speaks louder than anything you can say.’

But he didn’t say it first. Aristotle did, 2300 years ago.

How Ethos impacts your influence

Aristotle said the character of the arguer — Ethos — is critical. A dodgy used-car salesman might have the arguments (Logos) and passion (Pathos), but he fails to persuade because people don’t TRUST him.

I can hear you now: ‘But Paul, I’m a great guy/girl. Of course my reader/listener trusts me!’

I’m sure you are. But perception is reality. Do they, deep-down, know you’re trustworthy? Are you omitting things that could help them trust you more? Are you doing or saying things in ways that make them doubt you?

The infobesity epidemic we’re in makes your readers incredibly time-poor. They make snap judgments constantly, including about you and your cred — your ethos.

So how can you boost your ethos? Here are 5 ways:

1. Specifics sell

Mealy-mouthed salespeople spout generalities: ‘Our system is the best on the market!’ Really? By what standard? Is it the best quality? The most efficient? The highest selling?

Readers trust you more when you quantify: ‘System X is twice as fast as its nearest competitor.’ More credible. Stronger ethos.

2. Immaculate data

Years ago I ran a networking group called the Last Thursday Club. One day I wrote excitedly to my database to say I’d secured a New York Times best-selling author to speak to our group. Many wrote back and said, ‘Great, Paul! … When is he coming?’ I’d forgotten to include the event date. Hardly immaculate data.

So help readers trust you more by showing you’ve covered all their likely questions. (Another reason why it’s important to know your audience, and their reactions, well.) Like a journalist, answer the ‘5 Ws & H’: Who, What, Why, When, Where and How.

3. Worst first: Go ugly early

A pharmaceutical company CEO once told me he can sense when his staff are hiding bad news. When they try to butter him up, dwell on minor good news, or evade questions, he calls them on it. He wants the worst news first so he knows where he stands, rather than have it drip-fed to him.

People are more likely to respect and trust you if they know you’ll tell them the truth instead of what you think they want to hear. It’s about being a trusted advisor. And it boosts your ethos.

4. Tell them who, not just what

One of the most common errors we see in our course attendees’ writing samples is passive voice. That’s where you say WHAT was done, but not WHO did it.

For example, ‘It is suggested that …’ is passive voice. But, ‘The legal team suggests that …’ is active voice, because you now know the ‘actor’ and not just the ‘action’.

Clarity and trust take a quantum leap with active voice. So does your ethos.

5. Near enough is bad enough

Nothing says ‘I’m average’ more than sloppy work.

I once trained a telco sales team. Their sales manager submitted his proposal for feedback (we do this for all course attendees). He and his team had worked for months to win this account, and he’d already sent the proposal to his prospect. But it was full of typos; he hadn’t run spellcheck over it before sending it. And worse, he’d left the previous client’s name in it — twice! 

Oversights like that drop your ethos and credibility to your ankles. Proofread with fresh eyes. And with Credosity (which we’re about to release as a beta!).

I could add more to the list, but your scrolling finger is tiring. What else do you think is critical for building ethos? Go on, boost your cred by sharing your thoughts in the comments.


Paul & the Magneto team

P.S. Here’s how to build trust in your intimate relationships, from psychologist and author John Gottman.

P.P.S. If you haven’t ‘followed’ or ‘liked’ our LinkedIn or Facebook pages, you’re missing out on a LOT of extra tips and offers! Check them out.