convey to compel 8: priming

Zoom in. Zoom out.

Repeat. There are two types of thinkers in the world and by zooming in and out of your thoughts you can cater to both of them. This is powerful when you’re talking or writing at length to explain a complex idea that you need them to fully grasp.

So what are the two types of thinkers?

Bottom-up thinkers and top-down thinkers.

These two terms refer to how people process data to understand fully formed ideas. If we get into the scientific details of how nerves interpret environmental stimuli then yes, people have no choice but to use both bottom-up and top-down thinking in life.

However if we’re talking about how people process and grasp the kinds of higher level concepts that we try to convey about our product or service, they tend to primarily use one form of thinking more than the other. It depends on the person. Some resort to bottom-up thinking and others to top-down thinking.

What do these mean?

Bottom-up vs top-down thinkers:

Bottom-up thinking is when we piece together smaller individual bits of info to then develop a fully formed idea in our mind. Top-down thinking is when we first create this idea in our mind and then reverse engineer it to derive the pieces of data it’s made of.

Studies show that bottom-up thinking can only sufficiently occur if the initial data is presented long enough and clearly enough. The more complex your idea, the more redundant and clear you have to be about the smaller concepts leading up to it.

But we already know that peoples’ attention spans are steadily decreasing. No one wants to listen to you repeat the same thing over and over. So there’s the problem in talking to bottom up thinkers.

Now the problem for speaking to top-down thinkers: If you just keep repeating a lot of individual bits of data without giving them the bigger picture, it will be hard for them to follow along. They need a big picture.

This is when we can use verbal priming, to cater to both bottom-up and top-down thinkers at the same time.

What is verbal priming?

Verbal priming is something I gradually started doing throughout my sales career when I was explaining complex ideas to people. I began empathizing with the fact that they may be a top-down or bottom-up thinker and that I needed to cater to both. As I did it more and more and realized how effective it was at helping my listeners grasp my thoughts, I called it verbal priming.

So what is verbal priming? It’s when throughout the course of explaining an idea to someone, you intermittently enforce the big picture (the whole idea).

You start by introducing the whole idea, then you go onto talking about the initial smaller bits of data that make up this larger idea. Then after you’ve explained several of these smaller bits, you zoom out and reference the idea as a whole, explaining how these smaller bits of info contribute to it. Then you zoom back in and explain more individual bits of info and repeat the process.

By doing this, you do two things:

For top-down thinkers, you constantly give them the end-product they need to grasp higher level concepts. For bottom-up thinkers, instead of repeating things over and over again until they sink in, you tie them together with a unifying idea instead, and help them understand that way.

Verbal priming is a very powerful tool to help explain complex ideas. So how do you know when to zoom out? After how many individual bits of data? There are three ways to guage this:

Empathy –  If you’re speaking in person, take a look at your audiences faces and body language. If they look confused or are starting to lose interest, then zoom out and relate things back to the big picture that initially caught their interest.

Experience – If you’re writing, then look back to when you yourself were first learning about this topic. At which point (at how many individual data points) would you have gotten confused or overwhelmed? At which point would you have needed someone to tie everything in for you before resuming with the details? Whatever that point is, zoom out for your readers a couple of bits of info before it, because your perception of how much you initially understood is likely skewed based on your current mastery of the topic.

Logic – You can also think about the logical relationship between the individual bits of info you’re talking about, and the whole idea/big picture. Remove all data from the idea other than you intro to the big idea, and the smaller bits you’ve mentioned thus far. Now look at the extent of logical connections between them. As soon as you realize that a fresh mind to the subject would not be able to relate the current bit you’re explaining back to the bigger picture, then go back to the previous bit and zoom out. Tie everything in, and then zoom back in to introduce the next bit you were on.

Verbal priming doesn’t need to be used every time you’re communicating. However if you’re explaining complex ideas or solutions to people, it dramatically improves their comprehension and retention of the value you’re trying to convey.