Very few people understand the art of communication better than Carmine Gallo. He’s a popular keynote speaker, Harvard instructor, and communication advisor for the world’s most admired brands. Gallo is the author of 9 books including international bestsellers: “Talk Like TED,” “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs,” “The Apple Experience,” and “The Storyteller’s Secret.” His new book is “FIVE STARS: The Communication Secrets to Get From Good to Great.”
“The Three Unbreakable Laws of Communicating on Social Media” by Carmine Gallo
Social media is simply a new tool to get our ideas to spread. Keep in mind, however, that the human brain hasn’t changed since our ancestors began carving pictures into cave walls. Your understanding of the ancient brain will give you a competitive advantage in today’s world.
The tools of communication have changed, but how people process information has not. Content in all of its forms that is meant to be persuasive or to change hearts and minds must obey three fundamental laws of persuasion. Your social media content must be: emotional, novel and memorable.
Great communicators reach your head and your heart. Most people forget the “heart” part. More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle wrote that persuasion cannot occur in the absence of pathos and emotion. And the best vehicle we have to convey emotion is through the power of story.
I learned a lot about the persuasive nature of story when I spoke to human rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson, whose TED talk generated the longest standing ovation in TED talk history. Stevenson successfully argues cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. He knows how to persuade.
I analyzed his now famous TED talk titled, “We need to talk about an injustice.” Stories made up 65% of his presentation. In 18 minutes, he inspired his audience to donate a combined $1 million to his nonprofit—without asking!
Stevenson tells three stories in his TED talk. The first involves his grandmother. When Stevenson was just eleven years old, his grandmother pulled him aside and said, “Bryan, you’re special.” She asked him to make a promise—never to drink alcohol in his life. He was just a kid, so he accepted. Here’s how Stevenson concludes the story.
“When I was about 14 or 15, one day my brother came home and he had this six-pack of beer – I don’t know where he got it – and he grabbed me and my sister and we went out in the woods. And we were kind of just out there doing the stuff we crazily did. And he had a sip of this beer and he gave some to my sister and she had some, and they offered it to me. I said, ‘No, no, no. That’s okay. You all go ahead. I’m not going to have any beer.’ My brother…looked at me real hard and he said, ‘Oh, I hope you’re not still hung up on that conversation Mama had with you. Mama tells all the grandkids that they’re special.’ ‘m going to admit something to you. I’m 52 years old, and I’m going to admit to you that I’ve never had a drop of alcohol. I don’t say that because I think that’s virtuous; I say that because there is power in identity.”
In that story, the audience laughed, they were touched, moved and inspired to listen to more. “Narrative is hugely powerful in effective communication,” Stevenson told me in an interview after that TED talk.
Stevenson chooses stories that are relevant to the topic, of course, but also repeats stories that are personal. By telling a story about his grandmother, he’s breaking down walls between him and his audience. After all, everyone has a grandmother.
It’s hard to tell a story in 140 characters, of course, but links to longer form content on blogs or websites, as well as short videos or articles, should contain stories. Stories don’t have to be long. Stevenson’s story about this grandmother can fit in an Instagram video of 60-seconds.
Neuroscientists who study communication say the brain cannot ignore novelty. We’re always looking for something different. Neuromarketing researcher, Dr. A.K. Pradeep, once told me: “Novelty recognition is a hard-wired survival tool all humans share. Our brains are trained to look for something brilliant and new, something that stands out, something that looks delicious.”
I call this the “Jaw-dropping moment,” the one moment in a presentation that’s shocking, surprising, or delightful. It grabs the attention of the audience is remembered long after the presentation is over. Steve Jobs was a master of the jaw-dropping moment.
In 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. Remember, the jaw-dropping moment must include the element of surprise. Steve Jobs did just that. He told the audience that Apple would introduce three new products. “The first one is a wide-screen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.” Jobs repeated the three products again, and again. Finally, he revealed the twist. “Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device. And we are calling it iPhone!” The audience erupted with laughter, cheers, and applause.
A surprise twist is irresistible. So is show-and-tell. In 2008 Steve Jobs introduced a thin, light, notebook computer called the MacBook Air. When Jobs introduced the “world’s thinnest notebook,” he walked to the side of the stage, pulled out a manila envelope tucked behind the podium and said, “It’s so thin it even fits inside one of those envelopes you see floating around the office.” With a beaming smile, he slowly pulled it out of the envelope for all to see. Most presenters would have shown photographs of the product. Jobs took it one step further. He knew the shtick would grab people’s attention. It did. Most of the blogs, magazine and newspapers that covered the launch ran a photograph of Steve Jobs pulling the notebook out of its envelope.
None of these moments happened spontaneously during the Steve Jobs era, and they don’t happen spontaneously today. Apple executive speakers, designers, and marketers spend months obsessing over every detail of a major product presentation. Every line, every slide, every demo is created to surprise and delight.
Find creative, interesting and unusual ways to convey your ideas on social media. You have to do something just a little different to get people’s attention. For example, I enjoy following Bill Gates’ blog because he’s a student of communication. Gates has a challenge—how to get people motivated about helping people in other continents whom they’ve never met. He does it by doing shocking things that grab your attention.
You might have heard of Gates’ TED talk when he released mosquitoes into the audience in a conversation about how malaria spread in under-developed countries. Well, he does something similar in other formats, too.
For a blog post about new technology that turns sewage water into drinking water, he included videos where he challenged people to take a sip from two bottles of water and decide which was the treated water and which was the real bottled water. On the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, he tricked Jimmy and put the treated sewage water in both. It was humorous to watch Fallon absolutely convinced that one was better than the other. Once the laughter died down, Gates got serious. Surprise people to grab their attention.
What good are your novel ideas if your audience cannot recall what you said or wrote? There’s a reason why TED talks are not allowed to exceed 18 minutes in length. For a presentation, 18-minutes is an ideal amount of time to get a message across without putting people to sleep. You have a lot less time on social media, of course. How do make your ideas memorable in a blog, Tweet, or Facebook post? There are two exercises that can help: the headline and the rule of 3.
The headline is the one single overarching message that you want your audience to know about your topic, company, or product. I like to use Twitter as an exercise here. I often challenge my clients to describe their idea in 140 characters or less (not the expanded 280 characters). If you can’t explain your big idea in 140 characters or less, keep working on your message.
Before becoming an author and a famous TED speaker, Daniel Pink spent his career as a speechwriter, thinking about words and crafting words for political leaders. Pink gave me this advice: Before a presentation, a speech or writing a social media post, ask yourself this question: What’s the one thing I want people to take away? For example, the titles of all TED talks easily fall within 140 characters. The title is provocative to entice you to read, raise a puzzle in need of an answer, and are always short. Here are a few popular TED talk titles:
• Schools Kill Creativity (Ken Robinson)
• How Great Leaders Inspire Action (Simon Sinek)
• The Surprising Science of Happiness (Dan Gilbert)
• The Power of Introverts (Susan Cain)
Give me one reason and one reason only to read your content. And keep it within 140 characters.
The second exercise to make your content more memorable is the undeniable pull of the rule of three. Simply put, people cannot easily recall more than three chunks of information in short-term memory. Don’t overwhelm your reader or viewer 18 pieces of information. Give them three, especially in a short Instagram video or post. Your content might contain: 3 features of a new product, 3 lessons you learned from a conference, 3 reasons to read a particular book, etc. Of course, you don’t want to become predictable and always group your content into three. Anywhere from 3 to 7 pieces of information seems to be the sweet spot, according to cognitive psychologists. Above all, avoid overwhelming your audience with too much information.
If you can make your content emotional, novel and memorable, you’ll stand out from the majority of social media content that is too long, too confusing or way too boring. Your ideas deserve to be heard.
Carmine Gallo is a keynote speaker, Harvard instructor, and author of bestselling books including: Talk Like TED and Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great. Please see Carmine’s books here
and connect with Carmine by visiting his website, carminegallo.com.
Have fun using Carmine’s three unbreakable laws of communicating on social media, along with the other tips shared in the newsletter (click here for past editions
) to create emotional, novel and memorable content.