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Don't Let a Binders Meme Stick to You: 7 Tips to Say it Better

10/22/2012 05:31 pm ET | Updated Dec 22, 2012

Have you been stuck with a nickname you hate? Do people stop listening before you stop talking? Would you like your version of the story to be the most widely repeated?

Label yourself and your stuff before someone else does.

The binders meme is still stuck to Mitt Romney more than any other phrase, good or bad, has stuck to either candidate throughout this campaign, despite the millions already spent on this high-stakes reality show that is gripping the country.

Ari Melver of The Nation wrote, "Since the social media binder obsession bubbled up to the traditional press -- a staggering 15,000 articles cite the 'binders full of women' line, according to Google News." Even the Republican National Committee's swift, adept creation of a binder of blank pages labeled "Obama's Second-Term Agenda" has not caught up with the strength of the first label.

Then there's Hillary Clinton, quickly clarifying her statement about women whining. Oh no she was not referring to Anne-Marie Slaughter who wrote "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," an article that generated the most reaction that the Atlantic has ever received. Both viral stories show that negative messages often travel faster and farther and are harder to eclipse than positive.

Let that be a lesson for the rest of us: Label yourself, your idea or your organization before someone else does. Like insurance, it's better to have it in place before you need it. Here are seven tips that may help.

1. Compared to What?

Considering whom you wish to persuade, make a credibility-building connection between your business idea and something they like or admire.

• "The Mini Cooper of office furniture," is an apt tag line for Turnstone, a seller of "the little things" that make a difference in an office.

• Musician Jon Hendricks is the father of vocalese, the art of setting lyrics to jazz instrumental standards and then having voices sing the instruments' parts. That's why Time magazine dubbed him the "James Joyce of Jive."

• The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship is called the Davos of social entrepreneurship.

Stress Your Strongest Benefit by Comparison

• "Mimicking spider silk properties has been the holy grail of materials science for a long time," says Jeffrey Turner, president of Nexia Biotechnologies, a company that produces spider silk on a commercial scale with goats that have been genetically engineered to secrete silk proteins in their milk. Here are two benefit-based comparisons:

  • The silk fibers have diverse uses, from sutures for microsurgery to bullet-proof body armor that's as tough as Kevlar.
  • Spider silk is a flexible and lightweight fiber, that, by weight, is five times stronger than steel.

Evoke Humor by Comparison

• A woman in the Midwest uses WD-40 to keep squirrels from shimmying up her birdfeeder. WD-40 CEO Garry Ridge can now boast "More people use WD-40 every day than use dental floss."

• "Criticizing a political satirist for being unfair is like criticizing a nose guard for being physical," wrote political cartoonist, Garry Trudeau.

2. Piggyback on the Power of a Familiar Slogan

Redwood Hospital in Northern California used this variation of the popular milk slogan to ask for blood donations: "Got blood?"

3. Sometimes It's Not What You Say But How You Say It

Get a positive response by:

• Choosing the best sequence in what you ask or say something: After moving to a conservative new parish a priest asked, in his first meeting with his superior, "May I smoke while praying?" He might have received a slightly more positive reaction if he made a simple reverse, "May I pray while smoking?"

• Responding to just one part of what someone says to you: In Split-Second Persuasion, Kevin Dutton recalls a story in a London newspaper of "an elderly Afro-Caribbean man traveling home from work on a bus. At one of the stops a drunk guy got on and couldn't find a seat. 'Get up, you fat black nigger bastard!' he shouted at the man. 'You calling me fat?' said the man. The bus erupted with laughter, and the drunk guy got off. Disaster averted in just four amazing words."

4. Summarize Up Front So They Stay With You Once You Elaborate

Too often we give people background information to set them up for our idea or what we want them to do and they get lost in the weeds, wondering, "Why is she telling me this? What is the point?" Consequently they may go on a mental vacation long before you tell them your core reason for speaking with them.

As Nancy Duarte suggests in her Harvard Business Review column, "How to Present to Senior Executives": "Say you're given 30 minutes to present. When creating your intro, pretend your whole slot got cut to 5 minutes. This will force you to lead with all the information your audience really cares about -- high-level findings, conclusions, recommendations, a call to action. State those points clearly and succinctly right at the start, and then move on to supporting data, subtleties, and material that's peripherally relevant."

When you tell them, upfront, the reason to listen, they may listen longer. This is akin to what's called the inverted pyramid style of newspaper writing where the first paragraph holds the key elements of the article.

5. Make Them Heroes When They Go on The Journey You Offer

Why do Star Wars, The Matrix, and The Book of Moses capture our attention and involve us in the story? It's for the same reason that Patagonia, Nike and The Story of Stuff pulls us in, suggests Jonah Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars.

Citing Joseph Campbell's classic "hero's journey" story formula, Sachs suggests that you wrap your business in one core idea. Tie it to a higher calling and inspire others to take on the outsider's role of "living in a broken world [then] meets a mentor and goes into a magic world to fight a dragon and make the world better." Nike wrapped its brand around "self-sacrifice and hard work and connecting to something greater than yourself" noted Sachs, and "Patagonia made its entire story about exploration and protecting nature," yet both brands are simply selling clothes.

6. Lean Back to Attract a Yes

"When we're about to sell something or ask for something, our instinct is often to lean forward. Try to lean back instead. In fact, the bigger 'the ask' you are making, the more you should lean back. This is the antithesis of the over eager or desperate to sell," notes Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth. When you want to connect with others, sidle (sit or stand at an angle to them rather than facing them directly) and literally get in sync with their motions, as we instinctively do when we are drawn to someone.

7. Evoke Inductive and Deductive Understanding of Your Idea

Give your idea in a simple drawing so we can use more parts of our brain to understand what you are saying. Dan Roam, author of Blah, Blah, Blah: What to Do When Words Don't Work elaborates on three key benefits from his earlier book. There is:

• No more powerful way to discover a new idea than to draw a simple picture.

• No faster way to develop and test an idea than to draw a simple picture.

• No more effective way to share an idea with other people than to draw a simple picture.

Here are Roam's six traits of vivid ideas you draw, so they don't miss the FOREST for the trees. They:

1. Have Form -- giving form to an idea takes it from the abstract to concrete.

2. Show Only the essentials -- a vivid idea gets someone's attention with the basics

3. Are Recognizable -- vivid ideas look familiar. When you see a vivid idea you would think "I've seen this before"

4. Are Evolving -- vivid ideas are always works in progress.

5. Have Span differences -- vivid ideas show us one idea more clearly by showing us the opposite. Illustrating an idea's limitations only makes the ideas stronger.

6. Are Targeted -- people notice things that are pointed personally towards them.