How to Communicate Incoherently

Communicating with another human being is never simple. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, walk away. They’re dangerously wrong.

In a broad sense, the population is roughly divided into three categories of cognitive processing:

  1. Left-brain thinking (very logical and concrete)…
  2. Right-brain thinking (very creative, “out of the box” worldview)… and…
  3. No-brain thinking.

That third category, unfortunately, dominates the world. Id-driven thugs rule with brute, unthinking force all over the map. They of course need logical assistants to run things, and right-brain creatives to write their speeches… but the final decisions rest with the knucklehead.

The first folks to get hung in any revolution are the smart ones, you know.

The triumph of modern democracy rests on the First Amendment, with its guaranteed protection of free speech (and, implied, free thought as well). We take it for granted… but most of the rest of the world enjoys no such freedom.

So the upside of life in the U.S. is that everyone gets to talk freely to each other. The downside… is that few of us actually know HOW to talk to another human so we’re understood.

All master salespeople are master communicators. As a copywriter, I knew I’d turned a corner in my career when I could take a complex situation… and explain it in two or three paragraphs in such an obvious way, it was hard to remember why it seemed so complex before.

Your Number One Job as a marketer… is to get your point across.

Your job is NOT to be “right.” It’s to get your point across so it’s UNDERSTOOD by the other guy.

In Transactional Analysis, there’s a situation called “Gotcha!” This occurs when one guy explains something in ways that are perfectly clear to him… using facts, figures, statistics, anecdotes, stories, whatever. And when the other guy doesn’t understand and screws up… then the first guy gets to claim status as the “dude who should be listened to, goddamn it.” He gets to yell “Gotcha – I TOLD you what would happen (or how it was supposed to work)… and you just wouldn’t listen.”

It’s a sick, sick game.

In business, you don’t “win” if you were right… but no one understood WHY you were right, and thus did not buy your product.

As a consultant, I am constantly faced with having to explain to a client – in simple terms (and calmly, so I don’t startle him) – that he’s been selling the wrong thing, in the wrong way… and that’s why sales suck.

I always get the same argument back: But these are the FACTS. It IS a great product, and…

Of course, what he’s usually doing is tossing boring features around in his marketing copy, unmoored to any thrilling benefits that could help a prospect “feel” like buying.

It’s hard to sell your own stuff. We all have a natural tendency to burrow too deep into our own box, where we gulp our own Kool-Aid while wearing blinders. (I think I just won the Best Mixed Metaphor award there.)

This is why top salespeople – and top copywriters – are so sought after. We’re the modern wizards, craftily seeing through fog and making sense out of nonsense.

And yet… sometimes I meet my match.

My friend Stan and I often have a disturbing recurring conversation. He will insist he’s told me something at least three different times, in three different ways. And he’s right. The man is honest to a fault, and sees no point in exaggerating. If he says he did something, he did it.

And yet, I will insist back that (a) I have zero memory of him telling me anything remotely like that… and (b) I nevertheless do not understand what it is he’s trying to communicate to me.

So, he told me… but I never heard it.

If either of us were lesser mortals, one of us would have murdered the other long ago. However, our mutual respect is so deep that we take all criticism seriously. I may not understand why Stan is arguing with me over some point… but the mere fact that he IS arguing means I need to pay attention and figure it out.

This is important.

Both of us are MASTER communicators. I’ve earned fortunes using my communication skills to sell massive worlds of stuff to skeptical, miserly hordes of customers. And Stan was a consultant so skilled in communicating the vagaries of software and “process analysis” to large corporations (including Cisco Systems, Wells Fargo, Exxon, and even NATO in Europe) that – for 20 years – he was among the most sought-after and highly paid “gurus” of that essential corner of the information age.

Top of our games, both of us. And yet we still bicker and argue over every detail of our entrepreneurial adventures.

There’s a lesson here for all of us.

First: Never assume that because YOU understand something… everyone else should, too. It ain’t so.

Second: It’s all about SIMPLIFICATION.

Stan is easily among the smartest dudes I’ve ever met. You could lop 50 points off his IQ and he’d still be smarter than you and me combined. (Okay, that’s a right-brain exaggeration. But I’m making a point here.)

However, all that brain wattage can be a handicap at times. While he’s constructing a logically correct structure of related tangents, plus essential points that must be retained until the end of the explanation, all buffeted by blindingly unassailable facts (facts!)… I’m doing my best to “catalog” everything according to the somewhat scattered, very intuitive, and non-logical filing system in MY head.

Man, it can be a challenge. But it’s also one of the best lessons in pure communication I’ve ever encountered.

What I do… and what I believe Stan has picked up from me (and is using more and more when dealing with us “lightweight creative-type brainiacs”)… is BREAK IT ALL DOWN.

This is a killer tactic for copywriters and for any salesperson trying to communicate more than one or two points with a target audience.

The easiest method: Just enumerate each point. One, then two, then three, then on to four, five, six, and beyond. But keep each numbered point “pure.” Don’t clutter it up with other points, or sub-points, or tangents, or anything else. Stay focused on explaining a single piece of the puzzle at a time. Forget about “tying it all together” until after you’ve covered each point individually.

Top copywriters know that a sale can be triggered by a SINGLE bullet point (even when that one bullet is nestled among dozens of others in the sales piece). And you can almost never predict WHICH bullet it will be. Could be a different bullet for each buyer. (If you discover it’s a specific bullet behind most sales, then you’ve discovered the headline of your next piece. Lucky you.)

Breaking things down into easy-to-understand points takes away all the complexity. Even if you end up with 999 separate points… which is how you’d break down something VERY complex, like building a gas-powered internal combustion engine from scratch… if you make each step easy to understand, you can walk a rookie all the way through.

But you can screw it up, too.

Let’s take skipping rocks.

You would be criminally oversimplifying the process if you said “Dude, just throw a rock across the water so it skips.” That may explain it to YOU, who already are experienced in rock skipping. But it’s incoherent to him.

Try this:

  1. Find a smooth, flat stone.
  2. Throw it sidearm, so the arc of your toss is more-or-less level with the surface of the water.
  3. Aim for calm water to minimize “bumps.”

If you follow this advice, you’ll skip a rock. It may be only one or two skips, but it’ll skip. In fact, even if you screw up the first point and use an uneven, round, jagged rock… you’ll still make the rock sorta skip if you throw it sidearm onto flat water.

Now… if you want it to skip multiple times (phtt, phtt, phtt, phtt)… then you’ll want to go deeper into this basic explanation. Why a smooth, flat stone? (To reduce friction.) Why sidearm? (So the contact of stone and water surface is gradual.) And so on.

You can apply this simplification rule to many aspects of your life. You can use it to make your sales copy stronger. You can use it to get your employees to do their work better. You can use it to win arguments. Etc.

Try it. You’ll see how much better you communicate just by breaking things down.

[Ed. Note: Communicating clearly is the easiest way to make your marketing work. For more ideas about how to market efficiently – and wind up with more money in your pocket – consider attending ETR’s 2008 Info Marketing Bootcamp. We’ve invited a dozen Internet marketing experts… and a handful of copywriting masters… to share their biggest money-making ideas with you. In fact, you could discover $1.2 million in new strategies for your business.

John Carlton is an expert copywriter, a pioneer in online marketing, and a teacher of killer sales copy – and he knows marketing inside and out. Discover how to get your hands on the kick-ass secrets of the world’s smartest, happiest, and wealthiest marketers.

And be sure to read John’s insights, tactics, and advice on copywriting and marketing at his blog.]

John Carlton

John Carlton slyly refers to himself as "the most ripped-off copywriter on the Web", and almost no one on the inside of the online entrepreneurial world disagrees. His sales copy has been stalked for decades by many of the best marketers both online and offline… and they freely admit using John's ads as templates for their own breakthrough pitches.