The elevator speech. You have 60 seconds in an elevator with someone and what do you say? In the fundraising class that I teach we ask students in one of their assignments to write their elevator speech and it is one of the worst things I have to grade the entire class. It’s not unique to my students however it is almost all nonprofits (and businesses) and I’m guilty as well. We all have been. The reason we write such brutal and unmemorable elevator speeches is because we are trying to accomplish the wrong thing. Normally we try to best summarize our work and get our message across in a succinct way.  A seemingly innocuous approach but what we should really be asking is “what will make this person remember me and my organization?”.

This is the concept of trying to make things stick, a book I’ve finally started to read, which has 6 principles to make things stick that can act as a guide for nonprofits in their marketing, communications and storytelling:

6 Principles to Make Things Stick

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotion
  6. Stories

Without a doubt, we in the nonprofit sector need the most work on #1. Simplicity. When we do get the chance to talk we just want to say it all. Whether this comes from pure passion for the cause or fear we won’t get another opportunity I’m not sure but it leads to easily forgettable interactions. In their book Made to Stick, Chip & Dan Heath put it this way:

To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion

Masters of exclusion.

I love that phrase. It’s easy to figure out what we can say, harder to determine what we should say and hardest yet to understand what doesn’t need saying at all. HubSpot recently had a good article on how Apple launches their products and, surprise surprise, one of them was simplicity. With the release of the new iPhone 5s and 5c they simplified their message down to two things: twice as fast and has a fingerprint sensor. The iPhone 5 conversation came up on the weekend with friends asking what was new about it. What do you think I told them? It’s twice as fast and has a fingerprint sensor. By being masters of exclusion Apple was able to make their message stick and I didn’t even get it from Apple themselves. I got it from someone else, HubSpot.

Is that all that the product is about? No, there’s all kinds of other things, technical specifications, colours, etc. but they start with faster and sensor and let people take it from there if they want. And that’s one of the things you need to be ready for, people to want to go deeper or just move on. With that, here’s…

5 questions you can ask yourself to make things stick and be a master of exclusion when looking at your elevator speech:

  1. What is the one thing you want people to remember after the conversation?
  2. What are the 1 or 2 key points you would want someone to be able to repeat to others?
  3. What can we say later on if they are interested and we have more time/attention?
  4. Which words can you replace with even easier to understand words?
  5. How can you make it even simpler?

By asking these questions and keeping in mind how you can be a master of exclusion and be memorable your elevator speech, and other communications, you’ll make things stick. And that should be the goal.