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Complex Ideas Don’t Sell

Did you ever think that the complexity of your ideas might be getting in the way of your success?

When people decide to make a career of thought leadership, they often focus on long-form ways to communicate ideas—such as keynote speeches, books, or articles. These activities prove that you’re serious, credentialed, and you know your content.

But here’s the problem. Most business professionals don’t have time to consume long-form content. They might hear a keynote at an annual conference or read a business book on a flight. Those formats are occasional luxuries that occur once or twice a year.

Instead, the new “long form” standard is a mere fifteen to eighteen minutes. People are only willing to set aside enough time to listen to a podcast interview, read a blog, or watch a TED talk. The business world wants ideas delivered—fast!

How do you address that need when you’re trying to sell your content into an enterprise?

Your enterprise-level buyer wants to deploy content that will be relevant to their needs. They want to see clarity, brevity, and impact, and the content needs to show a direct connection to a KPI metric.

Your average learner doesn’t want their first encounter with your content to feel like they’ve enrolled in an MBA class. Simply put, everyone wants a few quick, powerful ideas to help them through the day.

Here’s a warmup exercise we sometimes use when we start to work with a thought leader. We hand the person a 3” x 5” and a Sharpie, and ask them to summarize their key content in this manner:

  • Present the core ideas of your content, using five to seven bullet points.
  • Use simple language (no jargon).
  • Make it impactful to me, as a consumer of ideas.
  • Make it easy for me to memorize.

When we put the Sharpie in their hand, the thought leaders often freeze up. They’re so used to expressing their ideas in long-form that they don’t know how to state them simply. Few thought leaders can complete this task with ease; however, the output is a good predictor of how your content will do in the marketplace.

A good content model will appear simple on the surface but provides room for lifetime development. For example, think of Stephen R. Covey’s classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It defines the content’s topic and provides an easy-to-remember list of behaviors. You can memorize the 7 Habits in five minutes, but each of those habits might take years to master.

What does your content model look like? Take a 3” x 5” and a Sharpie. Give yourself five minutes to write it out. And then ask yourself, “Would an enterprise buyer or a learner see the value?”

Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

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