- by Andy Black
Chris asks how I state things simply and clearly and thinks that other copywriters and entrepreneurs would be interested in learning that as well. @Mattie asks something similar; she asks, “How do you write without rambling and stay on topic and stay focused?” First off, Chris and @Mattie, thanks very much for the questions; they’re very good questions. Thanks for the compliment as well, by asking me how to explain things simply and not ramble, because if you know me I can ramble.
First off, don’t change you; don’t change the way you are. What works for me might not be what works for you. So just take what I say with a pinch of salt.
I think the most important thing is to get your goals right. If you know why you’re trying to explain something then that really, really helps. For some people when they explain something, they’re trying to impress whoever’s listening, trying to show how clever they are, show off, basically.
You probably know a few people like that who talk or write in big words and big sentences and really impressive. Me, personally I’m not impressed by that; I’m impressed more by people who can explain something really simply as if they’re talking to my seven year old son. And by the way a seven year old lad is sharp as a tack anyway. So don’t need to dumb things down talking to a seven year old.
Therein is one my tricks — well, two of my tricks. One — my goal is not to come across as really smart and really clever. My goal is for the other person — for the audience, whoever is listening — to understand what I’m on about in their core, to get it, to have an “aha” moment.
When I even try to understand something I imagine myself talking to a room full of eager students who are just listening, trying to understand what I’m thinking. I just keep talking to people in my head. Sounds a bit odd doesn’t it? Maybe I need to be sectioned and shoved into an asylum. But that’s what I’m doing I’m talking to people in my head, I visualize people either nodding — oh — or frowning and shaking their head going — what are you talking about? It probably happens quite a lot actually.
I picture my Mum, whose first language isn’t English. So there is no point in me getting fancy with flipping words is there? I picture my brother who’s kind of like me, very excitable, wants to interrupt; his head’s buzzing all the time and he’s just going to interrupt me, so I need to get to my point as well. I picture my Dad who’s just calmly watching, nodding, giving encouragement and waiting for me to work it out myself.
There’s those two tips in one. Imagine you’re talking to somebody that you actually probably know and you’re trying to explain it to them and your goal is for them to understand. You’re not trying to impress them, show off, use flowery language; you’re trying to explain something that you understand so that they get it as well as you do and they’re excited. That stems from a mindset of helping them rather than thinking about you and what’s in it for you. We’ve heard this before.
Something else I do is I actually believe that the person who can explain something simply understands it better than the person who can’t, which means I’m not happy until I feel I’ve explained it as simply as I can and I’ll just keep going and going and going. You can make being simple your goal and then you would start being more simple.
So how do I do this? What techniques and tactics do I use now that I’ve got my what and why sorted out. Well one way is I try and explain things in lots of different ways and I’m going to explain that in a few different ways now.
Imagine I’m talking to different people like my Mum, my brother, my Dad, my sons, my wife, just nameless students, faceless students. We’ve all got different backgrounds, needs, wants; they understand things differently.
Another tactic and technique I use is to tell stories a lot. I love stories, people love stories They resonate. People remember story after —
Quick other tactic [beep] — no worries — that just jumped in and interrupted. Somebody stopped for directions.
If you can show, don’t tell. So instead of giving directions I got my Google Maps out and I showed him where we were, where we were going; he could see on the map and then I gave him directions as well.
So back to what I was talking about. Stories help as do help explaining things in lots of different ways. When I was learning to ride a motorbike in the year 2000 or ’99, we had to learn how to do a U turn which was start facing one way, stopped at the side of the road. Then we had to turn around and stop, facing the other way without putting our foot down and without hitting the curb and safely.
I remember the morning when we were all practicing. We had about four instructors and ten or more students all trying to do these U turns. . . . the motorbikes being revved to hell, poor things. You know, clutch in, revving it hard, just getting it wrong and then people going around hitting the curbs, falling over, grabbing the brakes before they hit the curb… So ungraceful, let’s put it that way. . . . just couldn’t do it. I just could not get the hang of it at all. Instructor tried one way of explaining it and then tried another, then tried another, just trying to get me to visualize . . .
Finally, after about an hour of me just losing the will to live and just not getting anywhere, he says “Andy, get on the back.” I got on the back of his bike, he increased the revs, held it steady, found the biting point, looked over his shoulder and then just smoothly did a U-turn. I just went “Ooh,” got on it and did it.
. . . stood there grinning like a big dope. But anyway the instructor came over to me and said, “There you go, you’ve got it.” He then said, “I’ve got about 6 ways of explaining how to do a U-turn. Most people get it on the first, then a few on the next and the next and the next and the last one, I just get them on the back and we do it.”
Did you see what I did there? I told you a story, because stories resonate and you’re going to remember the story and the message of the story. That story was about how having lots of different ways to explain something is really going to help because not everybody thinks and understands things the same way.
When you’re in an interview and they ask you, “Can you handle stress? What are you like under stress?” Don’t say, “Oh yes, I’m very calm; I’m very good under stress.” Tell them a story. When the interviews are done, when all ten candidates have gone home, they’re not going to remember Andy Black saying, “Oh yes, I’m very good under stress.” They’re going to remember the story of me in the south of France with the motorbikes where one guy crash . . .
When I’m talking to a business owner about AdWords and how it might help their business, I don’t talk theoretically. I talk about clients and stories I’ve got and I’m watching them as I tell this story. Or, if I’m stood in front of a classroom doing a workshop I watch to see who’s following and who’s not and I try and change the story up.
Another tactic I use is to start with something they agree with and then take little baby steps, either sentences or little video posts in a Snapchat story, and then move them along slowly towards a destination, maybe have a destination in mind. Sometimes I don’t, by the way. But each little step is only is small one and they’ve got to agree with it — “Oh yeah, that’s right” — and then I take them on to the next one and then the next and the next. The purpose of each step is just to get the person, the audience, the reader, the viewer to move to the next step until they finally come to conclusion and if they agreed with what I said initially and then each of the little steps along the way, then surely they would agree with the last step.
So why is that useful if you’re an entrepreneur or business owner or copywriter — and I don’t claim to be a great copywriter at all. But I use that tactic with ad campaigns, so it’s not clever or creative; it’s just very simple and straight to the point.
If someone searches for a plumber in Dublin, the ad says “plumber Dublin;” the landing page says “Looking for a Plumber in Dublin?” I want the visitor to say yes to the very first statement I put on the page — “Yes! I am looking for a plumber in Dublin.”
I might have three to five little bullet point steps — “We’re plumbers; we cover Dublin; we’re really good; 24/7 call-out; emergency repairs.” So the visitor goes, “Yes; yes; yes; yes and then the call to action at the end and say, “Call us now.”
So, that was quite a long ramble about how to be simple and explain things simply. I hope I did. I hope I did a good job. Let me know.