Whether you teach, manage, sell, or coach, there are times when you need to get a message across to someone else. I saw a great six and a half minute video by Seth Stevenson, on the twelve “master formats” of presenting information in commercials, that apply equally to any time one as to inform or convince.
The twelve are
- The demo: showing or explaining the facts or features.
- Show the need: demonstrate what is currently wrong, and then showing the way to fix the problem.
- Symbol or analogy: use some metaphor or exaggeration to demonstrate your point.
- Comparison: compare your point to something that is suboptimal.
- Exemplary story: weave a tale (true or fictional) to demonstrate your point.
- Benefit causes story: show some beneficial outcome (which could be an exaggeration), and then demonstrate how your point resulted in that outcome.
- Tell it: use a testimonial, often an authoritative figure or a trusted friend.
- Ongoing character: over time, create some character who becomes recognized; this might be a company founder or a fictional character like Smokey the Bear, who was used to instruct on preventing forest fires.
- Exaggerated graphic: similar to #3, but use of images to drive the point instead of words.
- Association or bandwagon: describe or show others who are following your point, especially others who your audience might want to emulate.
- Unique property: highlight something unique about your point or solution, something that can be more easily remembered or that can cause someone to do a double take.
- Parody: adapt something that is already familiar, like using a Jeopardy game instead of a quiz.
These twelve methods were first cataloged by Donald Gunn, former creative director for Leo Burnett. They were brought to my attention by Stephen Downes’s OLDaily.
Stevenson points out that an interesting activity is to catalog commercials while you watch television, to see which techniques they employ. This will make your recognition sharper in addition to providing some mental exercise as you otherwise veg out watching commercials. You’ll find that some commercials focus on one of these techniques, while others draw on more than one, but this list is all-encompassing.
Stevenson also mentions how the list of twelve can provide a handy inspiration point for presentations, papers, or articles. If you can’t come up with what to say, go over the list and try to visualize how you would present your points in each of the methods. He credits this as a great cure for writer’s block.