In 2009, Bill Gates gave a TED Talk about his plans to tackle malaria. Speaking to the great and the gifted from the worlds of science, technology, business and academia, he highlighted the importance of beating a disease that threatens almost half of the world’s population. (https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/malaria/en/)
He talked about how he planned to help — by investing $170million in the development of a vaccine. He talked about who it affected — largely people with little or no income, no healthcare, and no way to protect themselves.
All hard hitting, very worthy words. But Bill knew that if he was really going to get his message across, he’d have to make it matter to the people sitting in front of him. He’d have to give them a reason to believe it.
Picking up a sealed glass jar he’d brought on stage, he said: “Now malaria is, of course, transmitted by mosquitoes. I brought some here.” Opening the jar, he added: “We’ll let those roam around the auditorium a little bit. There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience.”
Cue laughter, albeit with a nervous edge, which was followed by a collective (if subdued) sigh of relief when Gates explained that the insects he’d released weren’t infected with the disease.
For a moment, though, he’d created the exact conditions needed to drive his message home. For a few seconds, he had people experiencing, at a fundamental and instinctive level, exactly why malaria prevention is important. No posters, no presentations, no expensive advertising or marketing campaigns. Just the simple action of opening a jar.
He used the underlying principle of all effective communication: making the message matter to the audience.
It’s a wonderful example of how creativity isn’t simply about corporate colours or clever logos or posters packs and PowerPoint. Think of all of the technological and creative resources at Gate’s disposal yet he chooses to convey his message in this way. Why? Why? Because It’s about finding the best way to get a message across at a fundamental level, to present your audience with what’s in it for them.
We’re not suggesting you release a swarm of insects or bring a crocodile to your next training session. We're saying that if you want a message to hit home, to inspire and engage, you have to find the part of it that truly means something to your audience and show them it.
That’s what makes it matter.
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