I’m in the middle of reading Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s New York Times bestseller, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.
In Made to Stick, the Heath brothers write about what makes some ideas “sticky.” A sticky idea is one that is understood, memorable and impactful. I try to achieve stickiness in all levels of my content – from posting a tweet to writing internal communications for a client. So, I love the case study on page 86 called “An Internal Presentation on Fundraising” because it addresses how to hold people’s interest even when the subject matter may seem pretty dry.
In “An Internal Presentation on Fundraising,” there are two examples of summaries the fund-raising manager wrote for a theater’s board of directors. The first summary is a straightforward chronological retelling of the people they targeted to ask for more funds, how they reached them and the response rate. The second summary phrases the information by using the gap theory. The goal when using the gap theory is not just to summarize information, but to get your audience interested in wanting to know the results of your findings.
The gap theory format begins with two steps:
1. Introducing a mystery (or a question)
Example: Why don’t young people donate more? (86).
2. Presenting a theory and a way of testing it
Example: Our theory was that they didn’t realize how much we rely on charitable donations to do our work, so we decided to try calling them with a short overview of our business and our upcoming shows (87).
The gap structure reminds me of what makes a good plot in a novel. The stories that hold my interest are the ones that leave questions unanswered until the end, not the ones that spoon feed all the information in a boring chronological format.