In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interviewed Steve Woodruff, whom has spent the past thirty-seven years in the front lines of sales, marketing, consulting, and entrepreneurship, which has uniquely equipped him to guide others in the principles and practices of clear and effective communication.
Steve is the also author of the business book Clarity Wins, and his new book The Point: How to Win with Clarity-Fueled Communications; coming out in October 2023.
His latest book unveils how the overloaded human brain wants information packaged, and how to craft brain-friendly messages that break through the noise. From email to sales pitches, from workshops to resumes, Steve Woodruff’s Clarity Fuel Formula is the universal recipe for communications success.
In this podcast episode, Steve Woodruff, known as the King of Clarity, discusses the importance of clear and effective communication. He shares valuable insights into the principles of clarity-fueled communication, emphasizing the need to have a clear point, get to the point, get the point across, and get on the same page. By simplifying messages and using vivid language, communicators can engage their audience’s brains and create memorable experiences. Steve’s new book, “The Point: How to Win with Clarity-Fueled Communication,” provides further guidance on mastering this essential skill.
Questions I ask Steve Woodruff
- [00:52] How would how would you define clarity fueled community communication?
- [01:35] Is it harder to write with clarity and simplicity?
- [02:39] Would you agree there’s some science in naming things?
- [05:01] Talk to us more about the four rules your framework is based on?
- [08:25] What’s the length necessary for writing?
- [11:12] How do we make sure that everybody across the board is using consistent language in their writing?
- [13:46] Can you elaborate more on your definition of focus?
- [16:51] What’s the power of simplicity?
- [21:07] Talk to us about your upcoming book
More About Steve Woodruff:
- Get the special price of Steve’s new book: The Point: How to Win with Clarity-Fueled Communications
- More about the book: The Point: How to Win with Clarity-Fueled Communications
- Steve’s website
- Connect with Steve’s on LinkedIn
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John (00:10): Hello, welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Janstch. My guest today is Steve Woodruff. He is known as the King of Clarity. 37 years in the frontline of sales, marketing, consulting, and entrepreneurship has equipped Steve to guide others in the principles and practices of clear and effective communication. Long time listeners will remember that Steve also wrote a book called Clarity Wins, and we're going to talk about his new book today, the Point How to Win with Clarity Fueled Communication, which is available probably by the time you listen to this October of 2023 and beyond. So Steve, welcome back to the show.
Steve (00:50): Always a pleasure to talk to you, John. Well,
John (00:52): Let's start by with a definition how when somebody says, huh, clarity fueled communication, what the heck is that? How would you define that?
Steve (01:01): That's very interesting. I had been using the term clarity as my sort of key word for many years, and I realized a couple months ago if I ever actually defined this thing, really defined it. And so I wrote a blog post defining what I mean by clarity. But essentially what I'm talking about is communicating in a way that is so simple and easy for the brain to process that instead of pushing people away and shutting their brains down, you're turning the light on. And that means using vivid, memorable brief words.
John (01:35): So the key word probably in there for me is simplicity, but that does not imply like dumbing it down. I mean, in some ways it's kind the obvious, right? It's actually harder to write with clarity and simplicity sometimes, isn't it
Steve (01:47): Much, much harder. In fact, the big default that I'm up against is t m i. Too much information and we are all tempted to try to say too much. And it's really a matter of brain science that has convinced me why that is bad. I mean, I think we instinctively know it's bad, but the fact is that the human brain is processing 7 million bits of information per second from all five senses, and that when you and I are talking to one another, John, it's 60 bits of focus. We can only focus on 60 bits. And what that means is if we're going to win in communication, we've got to win the 60 bit battle against 11 million bits of competitors. How do we do? Well, we've got to be clear, simple, and get right to the point.
John (02:39): So I don't want to ruin any of your tools and exercises that we are going to talk about, but I have noticed over the years, what's worked very, very effectively for me is to name things, give things a simple name that somebody can at least go, oh, I think I know what that means, or I want to know what that means. And I'm guessing that there's something science-based to that, just that tactic isn't there?
Steve (03:04): Yeah, there is. It's funny, I call it a memory dart, and a memory dart is a memory dart. So it's a way of phrasing something that is suggestive and has a hook in somebody's mind. So when I tell people I don't like the term elevator pitch for two reasons. Number one, nobody likes to talk in the elevator. And number two, nobody likes to be pitched. I talk about replacing that with a memory dart, a way of taking your compressed message and sticking it in people's minds. And when you can call something as you did with duct tape marketing, that's vivid, you have a much better chance of sticking than if you keep it generic and technical.
John (03:45): Yeah, and there have been times over the years where I've tried to explain to somebody all the things that something did or even all the benefits of it, and it's almost overwhelming, whereas if you say No, it's like this for this, it seems like all of a sudden they can process it.
Steve (04:01): Yes, I am a big believer in symbolic language and in side-by-sides, and those are two of the tactics I talk about of brain-friendly shortcuts. When we use side-by-side, we're saying, here's something you know about, well, this is like, or not like. That's a shortcut to processing and to recognition. And symbolic language is also incredibly important. So if I say, well, John Jan is the Mercedes of marketers, I've encapsulated in one symbolic word a ton of information, and it's memorable and it's suggestive, and it's so much better than saying, here are 45 bullet points about John, and nobody's going to remember 45 bullet points.
John (04:46): If you don't mind, Steve, I'd rather be the mini Cooper of marketing. It's
Steve (04:50): Fine. That's okay. I called my editor Josh Bernoff, I called him the Mercedes of business editors, and he said, I'd rather be the Tesla. I said, fine, whatever floats your boat, man.
John (05:01): Josh was on a recent show. He has a new book ad that puts out some of his teachings on riding. So your framework has four rules. And so maybe let's go there because I really do think that's the basis of at least getting people to start to wrap their head around, how do I do this clarity thing,
Steve (05:20): Right? Well, the first thing that I lead with typically, because everybody understands the need, is you have to get to the point. And we have all experienced the frustration of listening to someone who can't get to the point. Getting to the point means we've got to get to the relevant, interesting thing right away. But that's actually rule number two. Rule number one is you have to have a point probably, oh, whoops. So many meetings, presentations, discussions. You don't know if the person actually knows what they're talking about, why they're even bringing this up. So you have to have a clear purpose and destination. You can articulate yourself in a very short, I figure if you can't define your point in one sentence, you need to do some work before you start communicating. Because unless you know the point, you can't get to the point. So you got to have a point, which is the shift that you're seeking to create in your audience's mind. You've got to get to the point. The third thing is you have to get the point across, which means that even if we're using the same language and using words that we both know somehow know these words, we might not define them the same way. So if I use the term marketing, I'm going to have a whole bunch of meanings strategies.
John (06:40): That's my favorite.
Steve (06:41): Oh, strategy is another beauty. There will be a whole list of meanings, thoughts, definitions, ideas and experiences. And you and I can use these words back and forth and not really in our, so we've got to make sure we simplify and define and illustrate. That's getting the point across. And then the goal, especially in business, is we want to get on the same page. So we're trying to reach alignment and agreement and action and summarize that in writing. So if you look at that sequence, have a point, get to the point, point across and get on the same page, that's essentially the recipe for every form of communication. You can use that for emails, presentations, books, podcasts, everything has those four rules and it respects the way the human brain wants information.
John (07:34): So would you say, obviously the best part would be to have those four rules in mind as you're starting to write a draft, maybe even. But would you say that you could also go back and take any piece of content that's been written and say, does it have a point? Did it get to the point? Yeah, I mean it kind of almost do that same sort of filtering.
Steve (07:51): That's one of the fun exercises I do in my workshops with my corporate clients is we'll take a block of stuff, texts, ideas, whatever, and say, alright, let's dig into this and find the point. How would you actually bring out the point? Because if we present unstructured information to people, if we give them the haystack and not the needle, we're going to shut them down. So we've got to say, here's the needle, here's what we're talking about. Now we can progress to a greater level of detail once we know what we're talking about.
John (08:25): So let's talk about length, because I'm guessing that the default or maybe the assumption in somebody writing is, oh, that means my writing needs to be very short. But that's not exactly what you're saying, is it?
Steve (08:38): No, there's some level of detail that's necessary. So what am my most important strategies in the book is what I call stratification. If you have a block of information, and if you envision a pyramid with three levels at the very top of the pyramid is the distilled the point, the most important thing we're shooting for here, you got to start with that. And then once people know the point, they will be receptive to hearing a little bit more, some background or some context or some stories. Then they'll be receptive to details as much as they need. So it's not that we're throwing all the information out, but we have to sequence it in a way that makes it palatable. So if you go to a restaurant and you order five courses and they just bring out everything at once, the dessert, the wine, the appetizer, the soup, all great food, I wanted it, but this is not the sequence I was looking for.
John (09:36): Well, in some ways that's the classic sort of copywriting is spend 80% of your time on the headline. And I mean, in some ways it's like that's the ad for whether or not you should invest your time to go any farther, because there've been times I've read, I don't know, 3000 word emails or sales pages because I said, this is worth me investing my time in. There's also been times when I've gone, so in a lot of ways that's what you're saying is the point may not necessarily be the hook per se, but it's the thing that's going to bring me in is it,
Steve (10:09): It's the thing that appeals to you on the level of personal relevance. It's the what's in it for me as an audience, the W I I F M. So salespeople know about the W I I F M because you've got to talk about the benefit. Well, in fact, for every communication with every person, we have to lead with the W I I F M, the what's in it for you. So email, John is one of the areas where I encourage the most immediate change, which is the visual real estate of the subject line in the first sentence is where you're going to win or lose on emails in an inbox that's full of stuff and always growing and the person that's receiving email is going to skimm, delete, put off, maybe read. Well, if I don't get the point right up there in the subject line, the first sentence, I run the risk of never being seen. And so that's where you've got to say, here's the call to action. Here's the deadline, here's what I'm looking for. And then the details can be later, but you got to hook 'em first.
John (11:12): Yeah, and it's funny in email because in a lot of email programs, of course that first sentence is, I can see half of that before you even open the email. So you might, you might be talking about a couple hundred characters, you better hook them because they're going to decide to not even open it. Let's talk about consistency. A lot of organizations, everybody in the organization's creating content today, right? Because what we do, how do we make sure that we are all, once clarity is found, how do we make sure that everybody across the board is using that consistent language, how people are, I mean, they just, here's my style, but from a brand promise standpoint, once we find that message, boy, sticking with it is important. Hey, you ever tried to hire freelancers and found that the quality of work was lacking? Or you got all the outsourcing excuses as to why the work didn't get done on time?
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Steve (12:53): That's one of my biggest burdens with this book is that I've worked with a lot of corporate clients and they all have a set of all these different formulas. Here's our selling formula, here's our marketing formula, here's our blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, 15 different acronyms, recipes, whatever, no consistency. And that means that there is no clear communication consistency in the organization because it's all fragmented. So in coming up with this formula that's in the book, I wanted to see if there could be one formula that fit everybody, every human being in an organization. And so the four rules and the eight tools are completely universal, and they provide the framework of a language that a team or an entire organization can standardize on so that people can reinforce best practices instead of all be fragmented with their own thing.
John (13:46): So there's a point in the book, and I think this is a point you're making, correct me if I'm wrong, I think that a lot of people will get to the point where their clear messaging is helping the organization focus. However, I think you took the leap to say, really that's our job is to actually help the reader focus. Now, did I misinterpret that? But I really love that point, and I hope that's the point you were making.
Steve (14:08): Sounds like a good one follow up book
John (14:10): If not addition to, right?
Steve (14:12): That's right. No, the idea of focus is for everyone in the organization and especially leaders, leaders in an organization have got to have clear focus and put it into clear words so that their people can have clear expectations of what they're to do. And this is one of the big gaps I find as far as clarity is you might have somebody that could make a good sales message or make a good marketing message, but they're not clear in the way that they discuss things with the people they're coaching or managing and leading. And so you want clarity to percolate through everything, whatever you write, whatever, say every meeting you have. And that means it's an ongoing pursuit. It's not a one and done deal. I'm still struggling with it every single day.
John (15:00): I want to push a little bit on that because then you may have not have said this directly, but I got this from the, I think great communication actually helps the reader focus because in marketing, a lot of times the most effective marketing helps a reader understand the problem they couldn't articulate or the symptom of what's wrong in their business that they couldn't put a name to. And that's where I went with focus, because I think that the best writing actually does that for the reader.
Steve (15:29): Yeah, the best writing is going to create mental pictures in the reader's mind and give them, as you said, the labels that they've been looking for, maybe they didn't even know they didn't have. And so when you have good creative vivid language that somebody reads and the light bulb goes on, oh, that's what I'm looking for, that's what I'm needing. Oh man, it's wonderful. And so what I often do is I say, look, there's two levels of writing. One is the technically accurate explanation and you want to start there, then you got to have the really cool way of saying it that's going to turn the light on and be memorable. You can't just leave it at technically accurate. You've got to be able to say it in a way that the human brain loves. And that's the eight shortcuts that I talk about in the book that I'll start with SS stories, snippets, statements, side-by-side, symbolic language. That's what all that is meant to do, is to give that aha to the reader.
John (16:28): So step one, really define it as you say, as you call it technically accurate, but certainly don't stop there. I mean, that's half the job. And when somebody's come in to say, okay, how's this going to work for me? At that point, they need the technically accurate definition, but before they're even going to, I was going to say waste of time, spend the time to find out. It's got to have the cool thing.
Steve (16:51): Yeah, it's got to be appealing and simple, and we underestimate the power of simplicity, but I don't care how smart somebody is, I don't care how many degrees they have, simple language works, brevity works, vividness works. And that's how if we're going to be great marketers and great authors and great consultants, that's how we've got a front load with interesting, relevant stuff. If people are going to engage. Otherwise, there's too many options. I mean, every one of us has a smartphone, and if you're presenting and in the first minute or two, you're not getting to the point, it doesn't matter how valuable your stuff is, you're done. Everybody's going to be tuned out.
John (17:34): And I read a lot of fiction as well as nonfiction and fiction writers I think are a good fiction writer, very good at dragging you in. And you're going, I want to know. It's almost like the narrative makes you want to know what, so now you'll slog through the 200 pages of character development because they drug you in. I want to push back on one idea. I mean, I'm 100% agree with you, but I just want to hear, I know where some people might lead, and I'm going to use an example that you used in yours. I think there's, you can run the risk of oversimplifying, I believe. And you used the idea of the Hippocratic Oath in the book, and that's a brilliant example of where people have not only oversimplified, they've butchered it. First do no harm is what everybody says, but the actual document says, I will abstain from all intentional wrongdoing and harm, which is much different than first do no harm.
(18:29): If a doctor first did no harm, they wouldn't cut you open to save your heart. And I think that the point I'm making here is that I think it's abstained, abstained from all intended wrongdoing and harm is a very different meaning than what sort of the simplification over the years has turned that idea in. And we all use it. Everybody's used it, I mean uses that, but it's technically not accurate. So maybe I've butchered this example of what I was trying to get to, but I think sometimes in a rush to be cute, almost sometimes we can actually really send the wrong message or oversimplify so badly that people don't really have the right expectations.
Steve (19:13): Well, I think in the example there, my point in the book was don't overwhelm the human brain. Yeah.
(19:21): Here's what you just don't want to do In any instance, you do not want to overwhelm the brain because that is going to defeat the purpose. That is not what you're to do as a communicator. What you're trying to do is turn the light on, not turn it off. So the verbal shorthand of the Hippocratic Oath, yeah, I mean there's some work that could be done there, but it's a familiar term and it's a side by side that people can relate to. But the point of the thing is that we can't commit malpractice as communicators by just defeating the purpose of, if I've got this person on the table when I've got a scalp and I say, let's just cut 'em open and bleed 'em all out and see what happens, well that's really not so good, whether I intended it or not.
John (20:11): And the overcomplicated thing too, I mean, I've done it over the years and every 100% of the time, if I send out something and say, Hey, I've got three options for you. You can do this or this or this, nothing. But if I send out something that says, here's what you must do and why, way better response. Even though I think, well, gosh, I'm giving them options. They can pick good, better, best, but it's like now they can't pick as
Steve (20:35): It's complicated. There's some science behind that. The more options people have, the more they delay, the harder it is to make a decision. I've made major changes in the last three years to the way I email. I used to have emails that were more comprehensive, maybe have multiple themes, and I realized nobody wants to respond to that. So I typically make every single email one theme only with maybe one call to action. And it's like, you can do something right now with this. It's way, way better.
John (21:07): Yeah. I know my most effective emails over the year are me just saying, here's something that happened to me the other day and I'm wondering what you think about and just get into this story. And people are like, huh, I felt like I was talking to you as opposed to the whole, this here's new idea of the week. So Steve, I appreciate you shopping by the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. You want to tell people where they can pick up a copy of the point or connect with you in any way that you think makes sense.
Steve (21:33): Sure. So I can be found, I do a lot of my work on LinkedIn, and that's where I share a lot of information, write a lot of posts, have a newsletter. So if you looked at LinkedIn and do Steve Woodruff for King of Clarity, or either both, you'll find me, I'm [email protected]. That website's in the middle of a rebrand and refresh, but by the time this reaches the audience, it should be done and then the books can be seen on Amazon. The point is there due out October 17th, but it can be pre-ordered before that Clarity wins is there on Amazon. Clarity Wins was self-published on the Amazon platform, so it's only available there. The point is through Morgan James publisher, so it's going to be in bookstores. It's at Barnes and Noble. It'll be at other online ventures as well.
John (22:15): Awesome. Well, again, I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and hopefully we'll see you again one these days out there on the road, Steve.
Steve (22:22): Sounds good, John. Thanks.
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