An excerpt from


How This Book Will Improve Your Communication

THIS BOOK IS ABOUT COMMUNICATION; business communication in particular, and specifically, persuasive business communication. I wrote it for two reasons.

First, like everyone else, I've noticed that the surge in new communication tools - from voice mail, to e-mail, to fax machines, to cellular phones - means we spend more time than ever struggling with a tidal wave of incoming messages. It's difficult enough trying to sort through them all when you're on the receiving end, but when you're trying to reach someone with a vital message, it's frightening to think your best ideas might sink in the flood. It hardly matters how miraculous our forms of communication are if our messages can't catch and hold someone's attention, persuade them, and motivate them to take action.

It's a problem business communication specialists have mostly ignored. People in other fields, though, have made it their business to learn how to craft messages that not only float to the surface, but seems to surf effortlessly into our consciousness. Social psychologists have collected sixty years worth of research that pinpoints why people pay attention to one message and ignore another. Journalists, media professionals, advertisers, politicians and others have developed techniques to make sure we get their messages and believe what they say. I know this because for the past twenty years, in the various stages of my career as a writer, editor, graphic designer, public relations manager, and director of corporate communication, I've studied the research and used the techniques myself.

I used them to produce mass communication, such as publications, advertising, and public relations campaigns, but I also used scaled down versions of them in my personal communication. I thought that if I could adapt these ideas and techniques to everyday business communication, others could too, and that they might help people get their messages through the information overload.

Second, current books about business communication seemed to me to miss the complexity of human interchange. Crack open a standard textbook and you're likely to find communication described as a "signal" transmitted by a "sender," through a "channel," to be picked up by a "receiver." Since no one I knew acted much like a machine when they had a meeting, read a memo, or made a phone call, I reasoned that this was a poor model on which to base advice about communication. The more I read variations of this theory, the more convinced I became that something new was needed.

The result is this book, Hook Spin Buzz. The title is drawn from popular terms that describe how attention-getting, persuasive communication works. Good communicators first get us hooked with an appealing idea; they spin a story so that we come to see their point of view and maybe change our mind or accept their idea; and finally, because they know the dynamics of group communication, they manage their communication so that it starts a buzz, a stimulating tingle of interest we want to share.

What I've tried to do is to put the principles of persuasion as discovered by research psychologist together with the methods of professional communicators and to present them in a format you can use to make your personal business communication more effective.

The Psychology Behind Hook Spin Buzz

BECAUSE BUSINESS IS SUPPOSED TO BE RATIONAL, most business communicators haven't faced a simple fact: that people make many more decisions based on hunches, gut feelings, and intuition than they do on cool rationality. Psychological research has confirmed this, and neurological studies are beginning to show that the actual physical parts of the brain that handle emotion and intellect must both be engaged and working together to produce rationality. In fact, if the seat of emotion in the brain is damaged - if someone's capacity for gut feelings is switched off - the result is a person who seems calm and in control but who will make one illogical decision after another.

Hook Spin Buzz works because it appeals to gut feelings first, and allows you to follow through with an appeal to the intellect afterward. This gut-feeling way of deciding has a name in psychology circles. It's called the peripheral route of decision-making, (as opposed to the central route, which is a thorough examination of information). The bits of information we use to make decisions in the peripheral route also have a name: they're called heuristics.

A heuristic is any simple cue or habit of mind that we rely on as likely to help us make a good decision. One example of a heuristic is the influence of authority. That's the cue we take when we rely on the advice of an expert. We assume an expert knows the answer, so we don't bother to find out more. Another heuristic is social proof, which is the habit we have of believing that if most people think a certain way, there must be something to it. It's the heuristic that might cause you to think a restaurant's good simply because it's so crowded you can't get in.

As you've probably already guessed, now that we're all so swamped with information, we use the peripheral route more and more, searching messages for a heuristic that will make our decisions easier. Social psychologist Robert B. Cialdini points this out in his book, Influence: Science and Practice (HarperCollins, 1993):

    I have recently become impressed by evidence suggesting that the form and pace of modern life is not allowing us to make fully thoughtful decisions, even on many personally relevant topics. That is, sometimes the issues may be so complicated, the time so tight, the distractions so intrusive, the emotional arousal so strong, or the mental fatigue so deep that we are in no cognitive condition to operate mindfully. Important topic or not, we have to take the shortcut route.

But most business communicators have no idea how to build heuristics into their messages. How to create heuristics and add them to your messages is one of the communication techniques you'll learn from this book.

What Hook Spin Buzz Does

HOOK SPIN BUZZ IS A METHOD you can use to add a heuristic road map to your messages so that someone can take the peripheral route and get to the core of your ideas quickly. That doesn't mean you can skimp on solid research, tight reasoning, and lucid thinking. Someone who's been guided to your ideas by heuristics should be rewarded with substance; otherwise they'll resent being tricked into making a wasted trip. "The whole point is to find that honest, identifiable, valid thing to emphasize," says Jack Montgomery, an executive in the chemical industry. "What you can't do is come up with something that doesn't bear scrutiny."

In this book I'll show you how heuristics work and how to use them. Along the way, I'll introduce you to people in business who've turned heuristics into hooks, spins and buzzes in their day-to-day communication. The three-part format of this book follows that of the Hook Spin Buzz process:

First, the Hook: Where you'll learn to create an appeal that gets your audience interested in what you have to say.

Next, the Spin: Where you'll discover how to guide your audience's perception in a way that makes them see your idea from your point of view.

And last, the Buzz: Where you'll find out how to infuse your communication with the qualities that cause people to act or word to spread.

Hook Spin Buzz works in any kind of business communication - oral, written, e-mailed, faxed, face-to-face - because it's based on how we absorb information, not on the form of the information. In a letter, for example, your first paragraph might present the hook, while the next several paragraphs present a single spin (or several spins) that supports the hook. The last paragraph or sentence might work to create a buzz, whether just in the recipient's mind or in the world at large. You'd follow the same general form if you were giving a speech or writing an annual report.

But Hook Spin Buzz is more versatile than this description suggests, because every message doesn't have to use all three parts. You might leave a message on someone's voicemail that's all hook to motivate them to return your call. Or your audience might already be hooked. They've hired your company, let's say, and so you might move directly to spin to explain what's to be done.

Sometimes finding a hook might be difficult because your information is dry. In these cases, enough spin by itself can catch the attention of your audience. Other times, you'll find that although your idea isn't brand-new, it fits perfectly with an idea that's already buzzing through the company. Your hook, then, would link to that buzz, add spin, and recreate your idea as a new addition to mainstream thought.

Each of the book's three parts covers a phase in the Hook Spin Buzz process, while each chapter focuses on a single principle or technique of that phase. Reading the book straight through will give you an overview of how to craft messages using the different techniques. But I hope you'll also find the organization easy to refer to when you have an important message to send and you need to pick the right appeal.

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Copyright © 2006 Garrett Soden