Hello and welcome to Episode 25 of the ActiveGrowth Marketing Podcast. I'm Shane Melaugh and in today's episode, I'm going to give you kind of an inside look at something I did to train my own marketing team from Thrive Themes.
I'm going to teach you a skill that was one of the main focuses of training for my marketing team during a three-month apprenticeship that they did with me. The great thing about what I'm going to talk about today is that this is an undervalued and overlooked kind of skill. What I'm talking about is your communication skills, more specifically, your ability to clearly and succinctly explain something.
Now at first glance, this may seem like it doesn't really have anything to do with marketing or entrepreneurship. So why am I talking about it here on the podcast? Well, here's the thing. Your ability to explain something and your communication skills are actually something that affect your marketing work on many, many levels, but even on a personal level, it's something to really think about.
In a way, if you lack this communication skill, it's almost like you're trying to communicate in a foreign language, and maybe you have experience in this, maybe you learned a language, a foreign language in school and of course in school, you probably never reached a level of mastery of that. If you ever tried to explain something to someone in that language, it can be very frustrating 'cause you can't really translate your thoughts into what you actually mean in this language. You lack the words and the phrases and so on.
It can be frustrating and in a way, it also it kind of hides your intelligence. You sound like a bit of an idiot speaking in a foreign language because you know so few words and you just can't express what you actually mean. Lack of communication skills is exactly the same thing, just minus the foreign language. The worse you are at translating your thoughts into clear statements and sentences, the more you're basically hiding your true intelligence and also hiding the actual meaning of what you're trying to say and the more likely it is that people might just ignore you or dismiss you as an idiot, even if the ideas you're trying to communicate, even if the thoughts in your head are actually on point and valuable and valid.
Beyond that, clear communication skills translate into marketing and entrepreneurship on many levels, and that's one of the things we're going to talk about in today's episode and I'm going to teach you my number one communication technique called Bento Box Thinking. This and more in today's episode.
To get the show notes for this episode, which includes a summary of the Bento Box Thinking Method and of all the tips I will be giving you in this episode, go to activegrowth.com/25. If you've been listening to this podcast for a while, you may have noticed that we don't have any sponsors. We don't do any advertising. We don't do long drawn out intros talking about what mattress or pillow you're supposed to buy or something like that. We try to focus exclusively on actionable practical content.
What's important for us to do this though is that we get some feedback from you. So I encourage you and I appreciate it if you do head on over to the show notes, activegrowth.com/25, and leave a comment. If you have any questions, you can ask them there. We answer all the comments. You can also click a button to leave a voice message. You can leave a review on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen to this podcast and any kind of feedback about what you like, what you don't like, what you'd like to hear more of, what questions you have are very, very valued and help us make better content for you. That's it. That's my pitch for supporting the podcast simply by communicating with us and you can do that at activegrowth.com/25.
Like I mentioned in the intro, one of the reasons I'm making this podcast is because communication skills and the ability to explain something clearly turned out to be the main focus of my second marketing apprenticeship. This took place about a year ago in Lisbon where I got a group of apprentices together and taught them online marketing skills for three months in an intensive setting. So we were all basically living and working together everyday grinding our marketing skills.
This wasn't planned in advance, but pretty quickly as we started working, I realized that this was one of the things we had to focus on, the communication skills in general and simply, the ability to clearly explain something. We ended up doing many exercises, many rounds of feedback, and a lot of work on this one thing over the course of three months because I saw it as one of the greatest leverage points, one of the greatest things we could do to improve these people's marketing skills in the time we had.
If you can explain things clearly, it really benefits you on many, many levels from marketing itself, so any marketing material you make usually consists of words on a page or words spoken into a microphone and the clearer your explanation of things are, the better your marketing material is going to be. It also really helps with product creation, but it also goes to a higher level where it helps you manage people. It helps you with entrepreneurship in general because whenever you are talking to a group of people, trying to explain to them what the purpose and vision of your company is, whether that is your employees, for example, or whether it is you pitching to a group of investors, in all these scenarios, being able to clearly communicate your ideas makes a huge difference and can make the difference between winning and losing.
Another reason why clear communication is so high on my list of priorities is because clarity is a major conversion factor. I'd like to reference the LIFT Model by WiderFunnel, this is a conversion optimization company. They've created this model, which is an excellent conversion optimization model. I will link to that and I will show an illustration in the show notes as well, and I highly recommend that you check this out. If you don't immediately know, oh, yeah, LIFT Model already, definitely check this out. This is super, super valuable.
But just as a quick summary, the LIFT Model basically says that in order to increase conversions, here are the things you need to do. You need to reduce distraction on a page. You need to reduce anxiety, anything that makes your prospect maybe worry or makes them feel unsure about something. You need to add urgency and you need to increase relevance and you need to increase clarity.
In fact, that's one of the top things here and one of the first things that often you need to tackle when you do conversion optimization is increasing clarity. Another way to put that is that a lack of clarity is one of the big conversion killers, a lack of clarity. Someone comes to your whatever, home page, landing page, sees an opt-in form, whatever it is, they see that and they go, "Wait, what is this? What is this about? I'm not exactly sure what this company does. I'm not exactly sure what I can get here," that's a lack of clarity and that chases people off unlike many other things. So it's really a huge, huge factor to increase clarity in order to improve conversion rates.
If you've been following my content for a while, you may have heard me speak about this before because this was a kind of a secret weapon for me early on when I mainly made my money by selling information products. Because I chose to focus on my ability to explain things clearly and this communication skill 'cause it really helped me in two ways that are very supportive of each other. 'Cause, first of all, using this skill, I can create good courses. I can create good teaching content that provide a lot of value because again, of course, if you were watching a digital product, whether you're reading an eBook or watching a video course or something like that, the less clear the explanations are, the more frustrating it is and the less happy you will be about your purchase. Really, the ability to explain things clearly is a major factor in what makes an information product valuable.
Then secondly, I can clearly explain what my content or my course is about and I can convince people to buy it. On the one hand, it's explaining the subject matter itself and that creates the product, that creates the course. On the other hand, it's explaining why this course is important, explaining what is so good about this course and why you should buy it. This is really a two-birds-with-one-stone kind of situation for me where I just noticed that the more I invested in developing this skill, the more it helped me create better product and sell more of them.
With all that said, let's get into how to make this happen. To start, the first thing you need to understand is something that takes us back to the example of speaking a foreign language. When you're speaking a foreign language, you have trouble expressing yourself clearly, the cause of this frustration is obvious. You don't know the words. You don't know the phrases. Everything takes a long time to translate in your head and so on. But here's the thing, this kind of translation is actually always happening. Whenever you communicate, there's always translation happening, except it's not from one language into another. The translation that's happening happens in several stages.
The first one is translating your own thoughts into language, whether that's spoken language or written language. Because your thoughts about things are not made up of clearly structured, fully formed, correct sentences. Your thoughts are some very intangible mixture of yes, some words and phrases, but also memories, and images, and feelings, and mental representations or basically shortcuts. There are certain things where you can recall an entire complex abstract that's a theory, for example, but you don't have to think through the entire theory every time you think of it. You have a shortcut or a mental representation that gives you immediate access to all of this stuff that you've learned and experienced over time. Those mental representations are in the mix and along with that, associations and so on and so forth.
If you actually look at the contents of your mind, it is very intangible and it's kind of messy and it has to be translated, all this stuff in your head has to be translated into language and language is to take all of this and transfer it into a medium that can be transmitted to someone else. In our case, we're talking about written language or spoken language.
Now the next step in the translation process because even though this is already where a lot of this breaks down, communication, a lot of communication breaks on this step, translating all this stuff in your head into language, but then there's more translation to happen because now, the language that you've created basically collides with the thoughts, and feelings, and associations, and memories, and images, and mental shortcuts and so on of the person receiving the message, so there's another translation step.
Of course, a lot goes lost in those translation steps. A lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding is simply that. It's a failure to clearly translate the things, the thoughts in my head into words and it's also a failure of the listener to translate those words into the same kind of thoughts.
Good communication is about getting as close as possible to a clean translation so that ideally, in an ideal scenario, in the receiver's mind, we would end up with the exact same thing as in the sender's mind. You would end up with the exact same thoughts and ideas in your head that were originally in mine when I started with my message. Of course, this never happens, but good communication is about making that difference as small as possible so that my thoughts and ideas end up being communicated in such a way that your thoughts and ideas are at least similar to them.
This is the first step. You have to be mindful of this. The greatest mistake you can make in explaining something is to think that what you say is automatically, no matter how you say it, a good representation of what you mean and you have to realize that in most cases, no. In most cases, what you say is not a great representation of what you mean, unless you put some work into it and also even if it is a good representation of what you mean, that doesn't guarantee that it will be translated successfully on the receiver's end. This is what you must be mindful of in order to even start being a good communicator.
With this, let me give you my number one technique for clearly communicating. This is one technique that takes care of most of the issues that people have and most of this lost in translation problem in poor communication. I call this Bento Box Thinking.
First of all, what is a bento box? Bento box is a Japanese lunch box, and I'll put a picture of this in the show notes as well in case you can't picture this right away. Basically, it's a lunch box that has little square compartments and everything inside the box is neatly separated so you have one little box with your rice and another little box with some beans and another one with some veggies and so on, instead of having just one Tupperware with all of the ingredients all mixed together. Really, it's just a neatly organized and quite nice looking lunch box.
The reason I use this term Bento Box Thinking is because what I'm talking about here is the idea of neatly separating ideas, points, and thoughts that you want to get across before you start communicating them. This is something that I very deliberately do in my mind. I have like boxes, each little box has one idea or one thought in it, and I'm aware of these boxes, and I move through these boxes as I communicate. In other words, this is how I systematically translate all the stuff in my mind into language. Instead of just letting it pour out of my mouth and hoping that the result is good, I have this step, this is how I do the translation. I create the bento box in my mind.
Now let me give you an example of communicating something poorly and then, what it sounds like when we use Bento Box Thinking. I'm going to just give you a very brief explanation of something your probably familiar with, content marketing. All right, here goes example explanation number one.
All right. Content marketing is a great way to bring organic traffic to your website. Now when I'm talking about organic traffic, usually, we mean SEO by this, which stands for search engine optimization. Although really, it's all about Google since Google is by far the dominant search engine. Other search engines exists as well, but it's not really worth optimizing for those when 90% of your traffic will come from Google, your search traffic.
Now that's not to say that it's all just about Google. Organic traffic can also reference something like social sharing, people sharing your post, other people clicking through from Facebook or Twitter or whatever. That's also an example of organic traffic. Although, there's this problem with social media, many companies find that the returns for their social media marketing are getting lower and lower each year. So that's why maybe talking about organic traffic in terms of search traffic makes a bit more sense. You see, most social media platforms aren't really that interested in promoting your stuff and sending you traffic unless you pay them for it. So economically, it makes sense that the reach in social media has gone down.
Now I'm going to stop there because as you can probably tell, this could go on for a long time. Interestingly, this explanation actually moves further and further away from the topic of content marketing as it goes on. Why does this happen? This is simply how your brain works. The brain's basic way of functioning is through association. You start explaining something and as you're speaking, one of the phrases you use as you're speaking reminds you of something else. If you're simply speaking as things are coming to your mind, you will jump on a side track, start explaining this thing that you just thought of, and as you're talking about that new thing you just thought of, again, you get sidetracked because your brain is constantly associating and associating and associating.
Another way to think of this is that your brain is not really built to finish sentences or to finish ideas. It's built to jump from one thing to the next to the next. Another example of this that I'm sure you've experienced is that some people will start telling you a story that involves people and every time a person's name comes up, they will give you some background information about that person and then in this side story, background information about "Oh, you know, Bill, I met him in high school, and I went to high school with Bill and Sarah, and Sarah," and so on and so forth. Basically, every time a name is mentioned, we get sidetracked to explain something about that person and we get further and further away from the main story branch. These are simply examples of how we can muddle up the clarity of our explanation by simply following our brain's way of thinking.
One of the things we need to do then is to counter this intuitive way of communicating, which is simply following the brain's leaps from one thing to the next. Bento Box Thinking is the solution for this. It solves this problem of kind of rambling on and on about things and things getting less and less clear over time. Although, that's an extreme example. This is not the only problem to Bento Box Thinking.
Now even if you don't have the tendency to ramble, this will still help you because most forms of unclear communication are something like that. They contain these mental leaps from one thing to the next and they contain things like you making statements that you think your counterpart, the person receiving the statement must know, must understand even though they don't. So Bento Box Thinking is a solution to this and many other communication problems. Here's what the same explanation, a brief explanation of content marketing sounds like when we apply the Bento Box Thinking Method.
Content marketing is a great way to get more traffic to your website and to establish yourself or your brand as an expert in your market. Let me quickly explain what content marketing is and the three most important things you need to know to get started with it right away. What is content marketing? Basically, content marketing is just publishing content on a regular basis. Typically, you would want to be publishing things like articles, podcast episodes, and videos that provide useful insights for people in your market that provide useful how-to guides or news or tips for people in your market and keep doing that on a regular basis. Over time, this will establish you as the expert in the market and it will bring people back to your site again and again because they want to read or hear or watch the latest piece of content.
If you want to be successful with content marketing, here are the three most important things you need to know. Number one, the content you create must be relevant and useful. Don't just create generic content. Don't cheaply outsource the writing of content. Instead, you should have a very clear understanding of who the people in your market are and what questions they have, what problems they have, and what is important to them. That is what your content needs to be based on.
Number two, content marketing only works at volume. Don't expect to get great returns from content marketing if you just publish a blog post every once in a while. Plan ahead, schedule, make sure you publish at least two or three times a week.
Number three, don't fall into the fallacy of build it and they will come. If you just crank out content, that alone will not help. You have to plan how you will promote your content as well. Reach out to people, ask them to share your content, do contests and more so you have an active promotional part in your content marketing as well.
If you want to learn more about how to do content marketing as effectively as possible, go to thrivethemes.com/university and sign up to get our free courses.
All right. That was my bento box version of talking about content marketing. Let's take this apart. Let's look at what the elements were that I put in here. The first element was that I announced what I was going to tell you along with a benefit statement. This is basically here's why you should pay attention to me. Next I gave a very brief explanation of what content marketing is because if I'm talking about something like this, I can't assume that everybody already knows what I'm talking about.
Then I gave three specific things, three tips, three things you need to know. I listed them and each of these things represents one box. That is in my head is like okay, this is point number one. This is point number two. That's point number three. I gave very brief tips of what you should do. Finally, I added a call to action.
The immediate benefit I think is very clear. The message is much, much clearer, and it actually stays on target. It's also more specific than the rambley explanation that I started out before. Let's dig a bit deeper and look at how to actually do this. How can you use Bento Box Thinking to communicate clearly?
The first step is to think about what you want to explain or communicate, and to distill it down to core points you want to get across. What is the core message here? What is the most important thing you want people to take away from this? Can you break this down into a series of maybe three to five tips or three to five core points, core ideas to get across? This is very important because each one of these core ideas is going to be one box. You're going to neatly put that idea in a box.
Doing this, I used the term distill down what you're thinking about into a few core points. That's important. It means that you're removing things. It means that when you communicate like this, you're not demonstrating all of your knowledge of something and that can be difficult sometimes. It means that you have to be okay with leaving gaps ...
No, did I give a complete explanation of what content marketing is? No. I could write a book about what content marketing is, but do you need to hear that? But it's not as useful as if I can give you three practical tips, right? So I have to be willing to, first of all, not let's say flex my knowledge and try to show off everything I know about this and I have to be willing to say, "Look, of course, this is not a complete explanation. Of course, there are some ifs and buts and caveats that I didn't mention, but that's fine." I'm sacrificing those in favor of a clean explanation. I'm not writing a scientific paper here. I don't have to cover all the possible bases.
This can be the most difficult part for many people. This is very difficult, to cut things out. This is whether you're speaking or writing, got to cut things out, and it's very difficult because we're attached to our own creations. But remember, people will forget 80% of what you tell them anyway. If you bore them or you confuse them, they'll forget 100%. They'll zone out before you even finish. The more boring an explanation is or the more confusing it is, the less people will remember anyway.
The way I see it is that if I present you with a short list of core ideas that are clearly communicated, chances are maybe you'll even remember half of it. Really if I say less, but I say it more clearly, I end up actually communicating more. More stuff remains in your brain at the end of the day than if I ramble on and on, and I try to explain everything about everything.
All right. We have a list of three to five core ideas to explain. Those are our central three bento boxes. To the beginning of this, add an introduction, add a hook. The hook in the beginning, we've talked about this before when we were talking about copywriting, is basically give people a reason to keep listening or to keep reading. Don't just launch in with, "Okay, number one ... " Just very briefly tell people, "Here's the benefit you get if you pay attention for two minutes and keep reading or keep listening." That's what you put in the beginning, in front of your three to five core points. Then add a call to action to the end so after you've explained your last core point, tell people what to do next whether it is, "Okay, go and do the thing I just told you or go to this website and sign up or buy my thing," whatever it is. In the end, you tell them here's what to do next. That's it. Those are your boxes.
Here's the really important thing. You have this in your mind. You can also, of course, make notes, but eventually, the idea is that you use this type of thinking whenever you communicate. In your mind, you have these boxes and you start with box number one. You give a brief explanation of what's in box number one. You finish that explanation and then, you move on to box number two.
Here are two things to keep in mind as you explain your way through these boxes. Number one, whatever box you are currently explaining, always think of what is the most succinct way to communicate this? Again, we're trying to cut down on the noise. We're trying to improve the signal to noise ratio. Always think about how can I explain this as fully as possible in the fewest words possible? How can I waste people's time as little as possible getting this point across?
Number two, don't skip back and forth between boxes. This is where the real value of Bento Box Thinking starts to shine. That's why I call them boxes in the first place. I open the box with one of my core ideas. I give a brief succinct explanation of what's in there and then, I close it and move on. This, if you learn how to do this eliminates so much confusion and eliminates so much of the feeling of someone rambling and meandering from thought to thought. This, if you learn how to do this, open the box, explain what's in it, close the box, move to the next one, learn how to do this and it will take your communication skills to another level and that's it. That is how to apply Bento Box thinking to your communication.
Everything beyond this, I could keep talking about this for a long time, but everything beyond this is really just practice and that is the one thing you have to realize here. This only works with practice. This is not something you'll be able to just switch on like a light switch. You have to try this out and the more you do it, the better you'll get at it. Trust me, this is worth doing.
One example is how long do you reckon it took me to come up with the explanation, with the Bento Box explanation of content marketing? I timed it. It took me 112 seconds. In under 2 minutes, I came up with that entire structure and also importantly, I made barely any notes of it. I wasn't reading off a script when I was doing this explanation. I simply had a couple of bullet points that made me remember this little structure I'd come up with and then, I talked through that.
Now I don't want to overpromise here. The reason I can do this in under two minutes is because I've been thinking like this, I've been training this way of thinking for years. I bring this up because I want to show you that this is really worth doing. Think about this. This structure I just came up with about content marketing with the three points and the call to action at the end, I can turn that into a mini explanation like I gave here. I can turn it into an elevator pitch. I can turn that into a blog post. I can turn that into a video. I can turn that into a podcast episode. How good would it be for you if you could come up with a good solid piece of content with a clear structure and a clear call to action at the end in under two minutes?
And it goes further than that. A lot of people ask me whether I read off of scripts when I do videos or podcasts like this. The answer is no. I almost never use a script. It's basically only when I do a sales video do I use a script. So people ask me, "How do you do that? How can you just sit down in front of a camera and record three to five minutes of content requiring very little editing with very good structure, clear communication," so on. People often ask me, "How the hell do you do that?"
This is how. This is the way I communicate. I've trained myself to very clearly map out what are my core ideas, how am I going to get this idea across before I start talking? I even use this in basically live one-on-one communication, so in a discussion with someone. Before I start speaking, I will basically have here are the core points in my mind and I will use Bento Box Thinking on the spot to explain something or make a reply or debate a point.
Bento Box Thinking like this, of course, applies very heavily to spoken content. Audio, video content, a live presentation or just talking to someone one on one. However, it also applies to written content. We don't tend to be as rambley when we write as when we think or talk, and that's because writing is slower. But still, this is how I lay out the structure for my content. Before I start a blog post or whatever it is, I create these bento boxes or I have the idea, this is the core message I want to go across. These are my main points. Then those are the headings basically and I'll go count the headings in my post. Those are my boxes.
All right, to close this off, let me give you some more bonus tips about this type of communication. Now the first is I'm showing my hand a little bit and if you pay attention to this, you will see me do this all the time and I did it in the example explanation as well, which is announce the number of points you're going to make and I usually do this after the intro. Sometimes I do this on several levels throughout the content, but I'll say something like, "I'll tell you the three biggest mistakes you need avoid or I'll tell you the five steps to do X or I'll tell you the three things you must know." When I make this announcement, the three things, the five steps, two mistakes, whatever it is, that is me talking to myself as much as to you. It's me talking to myself like these are the three core points that we're going to get across.
It also really helps the listener because it communicates right away that I'm not going to ramble. You know that I'm going to make three points and I don't just start then keep going and going and going, and you don't know where the end of it is. By making this announcement, "Okay, I'm going to tell you three things. Number one, blah, blah, blah. Number two, blah, blah, blah," it gives you the sense of orientation, like you know how far through the list we are, and it gives the whole thing a very clear and explicit structure. This is a big part of how I use Bento Box Thinking and like I said, pay attention to how I communicate and you'll hear me do this all the time.
Here's another super hot bonus tip for spoken communication. Learn how to end your sentences. I talked before about how the brain tends to think by associatively skipping from one thing to the next. This, together with our general inability to end sentences is like a one-two punch for unclear, rambley, and boring explanations. It's very simple. When you're speaking, then you have to end a sentence with a downward inflection. Otherwise, you have to keep going like I've been doing now because every time I basically end a sentence, but I go upwards with my inflection, I can't just leave that hanging. It's just not possible. It feels so weird.
Try this out. Try this out deliberately. End a sentence with an upward inflection and just let that silence hang. It is so awkward. By doing this, and a lot of people have this habit of always ending in an upwards inflection, by doing this, you force yourself to keep going and it can be kind of comical. You just have to keep talking until someone interrupts you. You have to learn how to come to the end of an idea and basically say, "Okay, this is as much as I'm going to say about this topic and here the sentence ends."
There are two things you can do to practice this. The first is simply to pay attention to it, to catch yourself doing it, and practice ending sentences with a downward inflection. The second is that you have to pay attention to whether you're afraid of being interrupted or not. Maybe you come from a family where people tend to interrupt each other all the time and where you basically have to defend your speaking time. That can be a cause of never ending sentences and always wanting to go on and on because as soon as you insert a little break in what you're saying, someone else will jump in and start grabbing the spotlight for themselves.
If that's the case for you, if you notice that you're afraid of being interrupted and if you notice that you basically let people interrupt you whenever you leave a pause or end a sentence, then simply practice telling people off for it. If I'm in the middle of an explanation, I end a sentence and there's a short pause and someone jumps in, I will just tell them, "Hold on, I'm not done yet. Please let me finish my explanation." Again, that's just a habit. You just do that to make sure that you can say what you want to say about a topic, that you can finish your statements, and that you don't let people trample over you verbally.
This tip about ending sentences also applies to writing, although in a different way because, of course, we end our sentences with a period in writing and that's not generally a problem. However, what we'll often find is that ideas are not neatly separated. So we might have a sentence that kind of transitions from one thought to another thought without ending the sentence in between. We might have a thought, an idea, what I would call a box kind of being spread across from half ... It starts halfway through one paragraph and it takes up half of the next paragraph. So you end up with a lack of structure in the way you write. It's quite similar to someone rambling on and on in speaking, and the cause of that is the same kind of thing where you don't have a clear idea in your head of this is core point number one. I make this point in a few sentences. I end the paragraph and I start with core point number two or something like that.
Now that's something we can talk about in future content. In fact, that's something I would write about. It's better to explain this in writing I think than in speaking, but that's also one of the things like if you're interested in this, if you want to know more about this kind of thing, just let me know by leaving a comment. So for now, I leave you with that. This is Bento Box Thinking, one of my secret weapons for better communication and better marketing, and I hope you will put it to good use.
Get the show notes, which includes a text summary of everything I talked about of the Bento Box Thinking Method by going to activegrowth.com/25. There you can also ask questions, leave a comment, leave a voice message or otherwise get in touch, and I really appreciate if you do that. It really helps us immensely whenever we get feedback from you and we know what kind of stuff we can do and what to do to keep on track to get this podcast as useful as possible for you.
That's it for today's episode. Thank you very much for listening. I hope you found this useful and I hope you come over to the show notes to leave a message.