Explaining complex ideas can benefit by breaking down the subject into pieces and adding a little entertainment value. A reporter for The Guardian explained a green lifestyle with a daily schedule and some cheeky examples.
In her “24-hour guide to going green,” Georgina Lawton offers ideas for boosting your environmental cred. Her ideas span the spectrum from useful to wonky to yucky.
Useful ideas include installing an aerating shower head, biking to work, using environmentally friendly office supplies, choosing biodegradable bathroom products and microwaving food.
Wonky ideas including investing in a bamboo toothbrush, switching to an internet provider that relies 100 percent on renewable energy, buying an energy-efficient game console, avoiding products in plastic containers and sleeping on bamboo-fiber bed sheets.
Yucky ideas include borrowing your wardrobe, avoiding a flush with anything not biodegradable and feeding your dog insects.
All told, Lawton’s clever piece tells a story about climate crisis in a familiar format, with personalized details and a few touches of humor, like feeding your dog insects (she actually was recommending a dog food made from insects). The eyeball-grabber image was a bulldog with a caterpillar on its nose.
Few people are likely to follow the regimen Lawton laid out or starting planting bamboo in their backyard, but that’s not the point. Her narrative, backed up by some relevant statistics, is intended to show how small steps can make a sustainable difference.
Actual or alleged complexity can be a project killer. Opponents wield “complexity” like a stiletto, slashing at well-conceived arguments, informative charts and third-party validation. Calling something the opposite of simple can be devastating.
One antidote to this project poison is making the complex seem simple. Lawton achieved simplicity with a daily schedule, something familiar to most people, whether they use them or not. She added a few pinches of humor to make her story go down easy.
The daily schedule was doubly advantageous because of how it packaged her information into bite-size pieces, as opposed to long, dry paragraphs of text, and tucked in statistics noticeably, but unobtrusively here and there.
Finally, she adorned her packaging with clever headlines – 8 am: feed your dog insects; 3 pm: take a guilt-free loo break; 4 pm: save some tress with your search engine.
And who can forget the Winston Churchill-lookalike bulldog, with a slanted jaw and a caterpillar resting on his nose?
Lawton’s techniques – simplicity, humor, packaging, clever phrasing, eye-grabbing images and savvy use of statistics – are transferable to public affairs campaigns charged with advocating for complex ideas, projects or legislation. These techniques are the best defense against opponents who seek to confuse decision-makers or a target audience by bemoaning “complexity,” often because they lack any real, substantive arguments.
Advocating for a complex project is a heavy lift. You can make it easier by making it simpler, engaging and easier to grasp. Your intended audience will welcome such advocacy. Your opponents will hate it. What could be better than that.
Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.