Seven ways to make your communications beautifully simple
When it comes down to distilling the message down to a few simple thoughts what you leave out is as important as what’s included. Simplicity is key.
However, simplicity takes hard work and expertise. Our process helps us chip away at unnecessary information until we have reached the hidden gem. There are of course tricks that help us get there – tools to help make communication short cuts. Here are a few that we have used recently for our clients:
1. Sharpen the axe:
“If I had five minutes to chop down a tree,
I’d spend the first three sharpening my axe.”
We use our ‘outsiders’ position to give voice to existing views, misconceptions or possible barriers to understanding. We clean the slate by capturing assumptions, clichés or old ideas so we start with a blank page for new ideas.
Next we learn as much as we can – by talking to our clients, doing desk research, attending lectures, going to the library, listening to interviews, stopping people in the street – to get under the skin of the topic.
We keep asking ‘so what?’ until the question can’t be answered. That helps us get to a single-minded strategic approach for each project. Strategy that is then ready to be brought to life.
2. Use metaphors or analogies:
Next step is the creative approach. This can take many different shapes. However, one tool that we have had success with is the visual metaphor to condense a wordy concept into a key visual (as shown in Figure 1 below)
Figure 1: The light bulb moment
We used this approach for a client that had developed a multi-modal antidepressant with a unique mode of action in the brain. We conducted one-to-one interviews across Europe with senior clinical psychiatrists and watched them struggle to understand the mode of action of this new medicine.
How could the complex information be presented in a compelling way?
Well the answer wasn’t education – why would they re-learn something that they don’t need to know. What we needed to do was bridge the knowledge gap rather than try to fill it. Metaphors and analogies are great ways to do this.
In this instance, we used an underground map to show the many different ways the medicine acted in the brain and the many different regions that were affected. Our client received a standing ovation the first time he showed the resulting video.
3. Start at the end:
Whether it’s a 30 second television commercial or a six-minute video, structure is key. The narrative needs to flow and every word to have earned its place. That’s why we create an argument flow. However, here we begin by deciding where we want to finish. What message(s) do we want people to take out? Then we work backwards to the start.
4. Use icons and characters as visual shortcuts:
We were tasked with making an internal video to describe the functions of the Health Economics Outcomes and Research (HEOR) department to the rest of the company. Previous internal videos were talking head interviews. Therefore, we suggested a standout motion graphics style. The result was an engaging, watchable six-minute video that gave the HEOR department a recognisable set of graphics that could be used elsewhere in internal presentations and communications.
5. Replace complicated data or descriptions with infographics:
We had a brief to describe the complicated and multi-stage pharmacovigilance process to pharmacists, carers and healthcare professionals. In this case the answer was to create an infographic, which used icons, graphics and colours to create a visual language creating visual shortcuts.
6. Focus on the hero:
Occasionally one person, product or place can become the hero of a tale and act as a halo for the bigger issue. A character may be used to embody an otherwise dry topic. Showing a day in the life of this character is a quicker way to show the effects of a complex topic than simply describing it.
7. Sometimes, someone has already said it in the best possible way:
“Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains”.