3 Tips to Make your Ideas Sticky

January 11, 2011

3 tips (from the book Made to Stick) to make your ideas sticky so that people remember them and take action:
1. Make your ideas simple.
2. Make your ideas concrete.
3. Make your ideas into a story.

Transcript below:

Made to Stick by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.

Good evening everyone. I hope you all had a great Christmas holiday. Do you know what I did this holiday?

While you might have been relaxing — putting your feet up, sipping eggnog mixed with brandy and bourbon — I was hunched over my computer, slogging away. I was taking 20 pages of notes about an intriguing book that I was reading.

It’s called Made to Stick and it’s written by two brothers, Chip and Dan Heath. Has anyone read it?

Great, that’s less than half of us.

My last speech was about 3 ways that watching TED Talks can improve our speaking.

And after I read Made to Stick, I noticed something about one of my favorite TED presenters, Seth Godin.

When Godin speaks, he uses 3 tips from Made to Stick. And these tips help people remember his speech ideas and to take action.



So tonight I’d like to share these 3 tips with you:

  1. Make your ideas simple.
  2. Make your ideas concrete.
  3. Make your ideas into a story.

Have you ever listened to a Toastmasters speech and wondered,

What was that about?

Well, people can’t remember all of the details of your speeches. But these tips can help you make a few of your key ideas stick.

I tried to use these tips to create this presentation. And after I shared this talk with my girlfriend, she was able to easily tell me the gist of it in her own words. So I think these tips are helping me and I hope they’ll help you, too.

1. Make Your Ideas Simple

The first tip is to make your ideas simple.

Have you ever heard a CEO say that her company’s goal is to:

“Maximize shareholder value”?

But what does that mean? It’s abstract. It’s hard to understand. It can mean different things to different people.

Compare that to the strategy of the the former CEO of Southwest Airlines. He said:

We are THE low-fare airline.

Tracy from Marketing walks into his office and says,

Our surveys show that our passengers might enjoy a light entree on the Houston to Las Vegas flight. All we offer is peanuts. I think a chicken Caesar salad would be popular.

The CEO retorts,

Tracy, will adding that chicken Caesar salad help make us the THE low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if it doesn’t, we’re not serving any damn chicken salad.

“We are THE low-fare airline” is a simple but profound idea. And it’s guided the actions of Southwest employees for over 30 years.

2. Make Your Ideas Concrete

The second tip is to make your ideas concrete.

A new software company sets a goal to create:

The next great search engine.

Within the start-up are 2 programmers. They have nearly identical knowledge and they sit in neighbouring cubicles.

To one programmer, “the next great search engine” means completeness – your search should return everything relevant.

But to the second programmer it means speed – you search should get pretty good results very fast.

Imagine these 2 programmers are soccer teammates: the first progammer is aiming for the goal on the left side of the field and the second programmer is aiming for the goal on the right side.

Their efforts aren’t aligned because their goal isn’t concrete.

Compare their abstract goal with Boeing’s concrete goal for creating the 727 airplane in the 1960s.

Boeing’s goal was not to build:

The best passenger plane in the world.

Their goal was to build a plane that met 3 specific requirements:

  1. Seat 131 passengers.
  2. Fly nonstop from Miami to New York City.
  3. Land on Runway 4-22 at La Guardia.

Is there anything in those 3 points that you could misinterpret? They’re totally concrete, aren’t they?

And that concrete goal coordinated the actions of thousands of experts from engineering to manufacturing to create the 727.

3. Make Your Ideas into a Story

The third tip is to make your ideas into a story.

Stories are usually the only thing that inspire people to take action.

I’m in the gym the other day and I’m listening to an audio book about the Dell computer company. And the book says that a key to Dell’s success is it’s great customer service.

But the book doesn’t give me any examples or stories.

So I didn’t learn anything. Telling me “good customer service is important” is useless. It’s not like I thought that bad customer service was the way to go.

Compare that to the stories at FedEx.

In one story during a winter storm in Vancouver, a tractor trailer is blocking the road going to the airport. A FedEX driver and a ramp agent try every possible alternate route to the airport. But they’re surrounded by traffic jams.

So they step out of the truck, load the last packages into their arms, and they personally carry every package the last mile to the airport for an on-time departure.

In another story in New York, a delivery truck breaks down and the replacement van is running late. The FedEx driver delivers a few packages on foot, but then she fears that she’ll never finish her deliveries on time.

So she persuades a driver from a competitor to drive her to the last few deliveries.

When Dell says that they have great service, it’s too abstract. We don’t know what they actually do for customers.

But when FedEx tells these stories, we know that their drivers don’t see their jobs as merely driving a truck from 9 to 5 and then going home. They see their jobs as doing whatever it takes to ensure that you get your package on time.

3 Tips to Make Your Ideas Stick

Let’s recap the 3 tips to make your ideas stick:

  1. Simple: “We are THE low cost airline.” It’s a short but profound idea that guides behavior.

  3. Concrete: The 3 concrete requirements for the Boeing 727. The goal was understood by everybody.

  5. Story: During a storm, a FedEx driver walking a mile to personally carry your package to the airport. This story inspires other drivers to do the same.

I’ve only shared 3 of the 6 tips from Made to Stick. If you’d like to hear the other 3, just come talk to me. And I definitely encourage you to get the book.

It’s helped Seth Godin, it’s helped me, and I think it’s a must-read for anyone interested in communication.

Thank you.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin Kane January 11, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I felt relaxed during this speech because I didn’t try to memorize it word-for-word.

I just knew my main points. I had no worry about forgetting a line and then getting derailed.

I need to use more personal stories, I guess. Everyone says that.

It’s a bit funny, though. I’m inclined to think that many real-word examples are more impressive than my personal anecdotes.

I could say that using tip #2 helped me get a job — but it seems more impressive to me to think that the Boeing 727 wouldn’t have been possible without tip #2.

But people want to relate to you as a speaker, I get that. So I’ll work on adding more personal examples.


WiseNinja January 12, 2011 at 3:15 am

As the bare elm knows the season, so yours is now
To cast the night owl and bask in light submlime
With words to paint the mind, a speech in rhyme
In meadows unseen lurks your own purple cow


Kevin Kane January 12, 2011 at 3:34 am

Ninja, did you write that?

Holy (purple) cow!

At first I thought it might be a passage from a Seth Godin book, but I didn’t find any references to your poem on Google.

After all these years you are still full of surprises! Thank you! You blew me away, really.

Wow, you should take a bow.


Natalie Besner January 12, 2011 at 4:32 am

Hi Kevin,

I watched your presentation online and I think you nailed the 3 tips. I think everyone should be using SCS (simple, concrete and story) ASAP. It is a great rule to follow! I love the story about FedEx..wow! I didn’t know their drivers would go to that extent.



Danielle January 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Hi Kevin,

I enjoyed watching your presentation on line. The three tips were well presented with clear examples of each. I particularly liked the second tip with the references to building the Boeing 727. Your style is relaxed and confident. Congratulations!



Ricardo Bueno January 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I need to focus on telling better stories through my writing. When I’m speaking, it’s not so much a problem. But practice makes perfect and so I’m focusing on getting better by writing more consistently :-)


Kevin Kane January 12, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Hi Ricardo,

I used to be biased against using stories. I thought, “They’re just anecdotes. They prove nothing.”

But I’ve seen that it’s powerful to combine stories with research: Starting with a story can get people to care and inspire them to act.

And then if people have any doubt about your message’s credibility, citing research and stats can get people to believe you.


EL January 14, 2011 at 7:50 pm

You’re already miles ahead of the game if you can walk away from a script.

Personal stories vs. real-world examples. This is just my take on things, but I really think you need both.

I enjoyed your presentation, but after you moved away from including your personal examples/reflection, it really became more of a presentation. By this I mean that you presented the idea and then supplemented it with data/supporting material. While real-world examples provide proof that the concept is applicable on a larger level, personal stories allow your audience to believe they can implement changes in their own lives.

In terms of being relatable, look at it this way: Who do you have more in common with; somebody at your speaking club or Boeing? If you want somebody to change a behaviour, they need to believe that it’s possible. Use a real-world example, but follow it up with your personal experiences. I know, real-world examples may seem impressive, but sometimes that’s not the end goal.


Kevin Kane January 14, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Hi EL,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

I’m delivering this presentation again next week, and you inspired me with an idea. I’m going to combine a real-world example with a personal story:

I’ll say that I was a member of Boeing’s 727 team in the 1960s! ;-)

But seriously, I appreciate your point: for people to relate to us, we need to tell personal stories, not just other people’s stories.


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