Most great leaders are great communicators. No matter how great your ideas, your technical skills, and your decision-making skills, if you can't convince other people your idea makes sense, if you can't convey how a project or initiative will generate a return, if you can't explain the logic and benefits of a decision, then you're unlikely to harness the power of the people around you.
But don't just take it from me: As Warren Buffett says, "If you can't communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you're giving up your potential."
Science backs him up. According to a 2011 study published in NeuroImage, the better the communication -- the better the story you tell -- the more mentally, emotionally, and (oddly enough) physically engaged people will be.
In short, great verbal and written communication "lights" people up.
So how can you become a better communicator? Start by telling better stories, not just with traditional stories, but by communicating in a way that draws people in.
And how do you do that?
The Rule of But and Therefore
Simple: Take a page from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park and The Book of Mormon:
Avoid these two words: "and then."
And focus on two other words: "but" and "therefore."
For example, imagine you're creating a pitch deck. You'll naturally break your "story" down into bullets or chunks. Now pretend each is a scene in a show or movie.
And consider the connective tissue between those "scenes."
"We can take these beats [scenes]," Stone says, "which are basically the beats of your outline, and if the words 'and then' belong between those beats, you're [screwed.] You have something pretty boring."
Why? The words "and then" turn your story into a list.
Consider your pitch. Your groundbreaking new product does this. And then this. And then this. And then this.
And then, people tune you out. There's nothing to draw your audience in. There's no story. Just, in effect, bullet points -- making it just like every other presentation.
So, therefore, what should you do instead?
"What should happen between those beats," Stone says, "is either the word 'therefore' or 'but.' So if you come up with an idea, this happens, 'and then' this happens. No. No. It should be this happens, and therefore this happens. But, this happens. Therefore, this happens."
The result? For Stone and Parker, a story with twists. With complications. With resolutions. With momentum. With connective tissue that creates a narrative arc.
Thinking in terms of "but" and "therefore," Parker says, "gives you the causation between each beat -- and that's a story."
Try it. The next time you map out what you want to say or write, think in terms of "therefore" and "but."
Say you hope to persuade potential customers to try your new fitness app.
The market is huge: Nearly everyone wants to be fit. But people rarely stick with new fitness routines. Therefore, you developed a series of routines to keep it fresh. But still: One size, no matter how flexible that size, never fits all. Therefore, you've incorporated A.I. to better tailor routines to each individual's goals and preferences ...
Framing your message using "but" and "therefore" lets you raise and then overcome objections. Lets you identify and then solve pain points. Makes it easier to frame your message in a clear, coherent, and memorable way.
Turns what would be a recitation into a story.
One that, as science says, helps you light people up.
Which is always the goal when you try to communicate something -- anything -- that matters.