Of the 270 credit hours of college and graduate level class I amassed over 8 years, the vast majority were conceptually based, and honestly that was what I preferred. I came for content acquisition and I certainly got it.
Luckily in my last year of seminary, I learned a rather important lesson. Really it was something I had learned before, but I had gotten to the point where it was more just something half-remembered in a dream. I needed someone to come along and remind me of what I once knew, and that someone proved to be my first semester preaching professor, who interestingly, made us read Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die for a preaching class.
While Preaching I and II had been the two classes I put off until the bitter end, I ended up actually really enjoying the content of both classes and really enjoyed the professor in the second (who was a man possessed of some radical notions). Of the two communication classes I took in my final year of school, this book was the most important one that I read and I’m only now starting to really apply it regularly.
I’m really an ideas guy and so I tend to forget that dry academic writing it not flying off the shelves of Barnes and Noble or Lifeway Christian Stores. I find intriguing ideas inherently sticky, even if they are buried in boring academic prose. But I am finding that if I want to communicate those ideas in the mainstream, the packaging is almost important as the content. Packaging is not more important than the content, but it certainly doesn’t hurt you to wrap your content in some packaging that will help it stick.
So how can you make your ideas sticky? Well, I’m glad you asked. A fully formed idea that sticks exhibits 6 characteristics:
To start off, your ideas need to be simple. That doesn’t mean they can’t be deep or profound. But its not just about depth. You need the simplest version of the idea – the one that will grow naturally in someone’s mind. On it’s own, no idea is simple when you have to transfer it to someone else’s mind, and since you know it in more intricate detail ahead of time, you forget to break it down for others. Most of us are good at harvesting ideas from others, but we’re not always the best at planting those ideas elsewhere. But if we could simplify our ideas, they would increase quite a bit in stickiness.
If those simple ideas can be presented in unexpected ways, all the better. Really what you’re after is a bit of creativity in presentation, something to catch the audience off guard and shift their paradigm. For instance, you’ll find out at the end of this post, that not only do these characteristics come from a book, they are prominently featured in a movie whose dialogue I’ve been quoting rather liberally.
While ideas may be the most resilient parasites, they won’t really stick with an audience if they aren’t concrete. I like abstract concepts, but they are easier to conceptualize in concrete terms, even if that means using a metaphor. In fact, you could almost make a case that you really don’t understand an abstraction unless you can express it metaphorically in some concrete way. But that’s another post entirely.
Credibility is not hard to come by. There are plenty of people with the credibility necessary to talk on their subject of choice. But credibility is not enough, and that tends to be what people in my neck of the woods forget. My Th.M gives me theological credibility, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to listen to what I have to say. And that could either be because of conceptual taste, or because I’m boring. I can live with the former, but hopefully I’m growing out of the latter.
Emotion is not a bad thing. In fact, our subconscious often motives through emotions, not reason, so it helps to translate our ideas into an emotional concepts. In doing this, positive emotion trumps negative emotion every time. We yearn for people to reconciled for catharsis. We need positive emotional logic. This why people love the movies (another post, or you could read my thesis).
Finally, never underestimate the power of stories. You could think “illustration” instead of story, but either way, use them and use them liberally. It is always a good idea to incorporate a personal story that helps shed light on the idea you are trying to communicate. It doesn’t always have to be about you, but it just needs to be a compelling story. Even in relaying these principles of making ideas stick, I could have been telling you a story instead. After all, Christopher Nolan did it pretty successfully right?
Looking at these 6 principles, you can see a bit now why this might be helpful in a preaching class. The pastor already has the credibility platform for his congregation. But if he can’t make the text simple, draw out the abstract and place it in the real and concrete, and use stories to surprise and create an emotional connection then by most accounts, he’s not doing a good job preaching.
True inspiration is impossible to fake, which is why if you’re going to perform inception, you need imagination. This is also why if you want to see success in your communication you need ideas that are made to stick.