Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die packs powerful wisdom that will help you express your message so that your audience remembers it and acts on it.
This article is the latest of a series of public speaking book reviews here on Six Minutes.
The core concept of Made to Stick is that your ideas are more likely to be memorable if you communicate them with six principles in mind:
The authors explore each of these principles in depth, both:
- Illuminating why it is important for memorable messages, and
- Demonstrating how to apply it through a stream of case studies taken from advertising, corporate strategies, movies, inspirational stories, and urban legends.
They also introduce the concept of “The Curse of Knowledge” — knowing something too well so that this knowledge inhibits our ability to communicate the essence of it to our audience. They portray this curse of knowledge as a villain, and address how to overcome this self-defeating phenomenon.
At the time of writing this review, you can get this hardcover book (291 pages) for only $13.88 from amazon.com. This is 47% off the list price.
Reviews are overwhelmingly positive:
The four things I liked most about Made to Stick are:
1. 100% Relevant to Your Speeches and Presentations
It’s not marketed as a book for speakers, but everything here applies to every presentation you’ll do.
I’m already thinking about how I could have improved past presentations, and how I can make future presentations better.
However, the best part is that the book is also 100% relevant to all other communication that you do, whether it be reports, emails, conversations, meetings, etc.
2. Well-written and organized
The book has just 6 chapters (one per principle), plus a prologue and epilogue. The roadmap is clear and easily understood.
This is not a dense book with nothing but theories. Dozens of concrete examples (or hundreds?) bring emotional stories to life and show how to put the ideas into action. Further, there is wide-ranging variety in the types of anecdotes used, before-and-after studies, and other methods.
3. No Jargon
You don’t need a psychology degree or marketing background to understand any of the concepts. Everything is written clearly and in terms that anyone can understand. There’s really only one term used which may be new to some readers — schema — but it is essential to the book’s message, and they explain it well. (Or, perhaps since I already knew the term, I am suffering from the Curse of Knowledge?)
In addition to the voluminous citations and index, the appendix also includes a very handy 5-page “easy reference guide” which summarizes the entire book in the type of shorthand a speaker might use for cue cards when delivering a keynote. Just the essential details. This is a very useful reference that I’ll refer to often.
For example, consider the follow passage which summarizes part of chapter one. Each of the numbers (which I added) corresponds to a story or set of stories used to illustrate their ideas. As I type them in, I recall each story and its lesson.
Find the Core
 Commander’s Intent.  Determine the single most important thing: “THE low-fare airline.”  Inverted pyramid: Don’t bury the lead.  The pain of decision paralysis.  Beat decision paralysis through relentless prioritization: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinic:  Sun exposure.  Names, names, names.
1. Ditch the SUCCESs Acronym
Mnemonics devices are powerful; I’ve used them myself often. However, I cringe when I see any process or framework which is framed as an acronym. In forcing the six principles into the S.U.C.C.E.S.s acronym, I think the authors left more accurate terms out. For example:
- Although emotion is a key ingredient of communication, chapter five is really more about relevance than emotion.
- Chapter two might have been better framed as surprising (or curious) instead of unexpected.
- The authors admit that core might have been a better term than simple for chapter one.
- Stories aren’t really on par with the other five concepts, but rather a way to deliver all five in a convenient package. (The authors point this out near the end of chapter six.) However, they are presented as a parallel concept to the other five.
2. More Before-and-After Examples
The book already has many before-and-after examples where the authors examine the before (non-sticky) message and compare it to the after (stickier) message.
But, I’m greedy. I’d like even more examples built around this template. I find it much easier to see how to get to the sticky message when we have the non-sticky message for context.
Barry Schwartz, Washington Post:
I find the Heaths’ analysis convincing and their recommendations quite helpful. I think I will be a better teacher if I keep SUCCES in mind when preparing materials for my classes.
Jessie Scanlon, BusinessWeek:
The clear writing and myriad examples make the book highly readable, and overall, it scores well on the SUCCESs checklist: It’s simple, includes unexpected ideas, offers concrete examples, draws on credible sources, covers a subject readers have an inherent interest in, and tells some good stories along the way.
My prediction for Made to Stick is that it will join The Tipping Point and Built to Last as a must-read for business people. [...] A warning though: If you read this book, you’ll revamp a lot of your marketing material (as you probably should).
Brent Dykes, PowerPoint Ninja:
I strongly recommend this book as it will ensure the foundation of your PowerPoint presentations — your central message or idea — is solid. Not even PowerPoint ninjutsu can save a weak idea or message.
I finished reading this book only two days ago, and I’ve already encouraged several people I know to read it. Now I’m encouraging you.
Your ability to communicate your message in a clear, impactful, and memorable way determines your success as a speaker. Made to Stick is the best book I have read which focuses on this key skill.
Highly recommended for every speaker.
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