How to be a better communicator by being fluent and sticky

by | Jan 12, 2020 | Blog | 0 comments

What do these phrases have in common?

  • Help yourself to some brain candy.
  • If you know better, do better.
  • For the fall, get a flu prick before any “boo” trick.
  • Don’t just recycle, recycle right.
  • Know your no’s.

They are examples of simple, fluent phrases that are easy to read, understand and recall.

When you practice fluency, you help people grasp your points with less effort and more speed. In other words, you reduce the friction that can get in their way of experiencing the beloved “cognitive ease.”

Communication fluency has multiple benefits, not just increased clarity with greater recall, according to Dr. Adam Alter, associate professor of marketing and psychology at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

In his talk at last fall’s NeuroLeadership Summit, Dr. Alter explained that his research shows that individuals perceive fluent messages as safer, more trustworthy, and likable.

So, how do you achieve fluency? Here are four tips he provided.

  1. Choose your words carefully. Short syllables, punchy words and phrases that rhyme often grab and keep people’s attention. Repetition helps. So does novelty. For example, calling your company training program “brain candy” as HP does is a breath of fresh air for a possibly staid subject matter.
  1. Wax about syntax. Besides choosing the right words, arrange them in an order that makes sense for your message. And use active voice (“I made a mistake.”) rather than the passive. (“Mistakes were made.”)
  1. In written communication, consider the physical presence of your message. Carefully choose fonts, font sizes, colors and the contrast between them, letter spacing (that is kerning and leading), the number of words you’re using, and related issues that graphic designers deal with daily. And wherever possible, include visuals as they’re easier for the brain to absorb and remember. (If this is all new to you, find a graphic designer who can guide you.)
  1. Be repetitive. Repeated exposure helps with recall. You don’t want to be obnoxious with repetition, such as being an annoying song that gets into somebody’s head and won’t leave. Yet, you want people to have enough contact with your fluent words and phrases so they’ll become familiar with them and even adopt your words and phrases in their conversation and writing.

If being fluent seems like a lot of work, it is; I have the scars to show it. However, in a world that’s overcrowded with messages, your messages are more likely to stand out if they’re fluent and sticky.

To be genuinely sticky, messages should be fluent. Plus, they need to fit these three criteria. The recipients of the message:

  • Remember its essence.
  • Find it coherent with the bigger picture and other messages you’re sending.
  • Care about it, including being committed to take action.

Let’s face it though. Not every message you deliver needs to be sticky.

Before you invest time, energy and other resources to develop fluent, sticky messages, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you need people to take action? For example, are you trying to get your employees to adopt safe work habits, practice new cybersecurity protocols, recycle properly, or build new habits that you want to become second nature? In these situations, sticky messages can advance the cause you’re championing.
  1. Does the situation benefit from disruption? For instance, are you shaking up the status quo, wanting to go in a new direction with your strategy, services, products or whatever? If so, it may be important to signal new ways of doing things by interrupting the old patterns and intentionally choosing words and phrases that will jar people out of their corporate zombie state. For more about this, check out this blog post Why and how you need to disrupt your words.
  1. Do I want to be known as a great communicator? If you want others to compliment you consistently for the style and substance of your communication as well as echo your messages, you’ll want to make the effort to be as fluent and sticky as possible. You’ll need to create clear, succinct, and notable turns of phrases that are more than clever; they also need to be coherent with the rest of your messaging as well as meaningful. You may want to find others to help you, or at least agree to be your sounding board.

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should allocate some time and effort to choosing your words carefully and being as fluent as possible.

No word salads, though.

Instead, strive for a fine dining experience that you enjoy with others. You want your words to be scrumptious, digestible, nutritional, and memorable. That’s fluency in action.


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