The media has been gleefully reporting a story about the “I Quit Sugar” author Sarah Wilson saying that she no longer thinks that abstaining from sugar is a good idea or necessary for optimal health. She said that she now eats cake and drinks wine every day. (Good on her, I’m all for that). One article quotes Sarah as saying that she never advocated that people should give up sugar (a strange claim, given the title of her book) but also highlights the fact that it’s really the readers of her book who might be feeling a little foolish now. They swallowed her ideas without ever considering the evidence or the veracity of her claims.
I know plenty of women (yes, it’s nearly always women) who advocate giving up all sugar, including fruit, in an effort to lose weight/be healthy and in truth, I can’t argue with them because no sugar diets do, in fact, work. All restrictive diets work in the narrow sense that if you eat a very small range of foods, you will lose weight. The question should really be about whether this is good for you in the long run.
It’s a bit like doing an evaluation of a social experiment (perhaps something like cashless card for people in remote communities). You can see that although something might “work” in the narrow sense, it could equally have a very negative impact on the wider community. It could damage the self-esteem of people in the community and make them feel more stigmatised and this in turn could lead to a range of other social issues. My point is that if you focus your evaluation just on “what works” you might very well miss evaluating the broader impacts of a program.
In Sarah Wilson’s case, she might have helped people lose a lot of weight, but their lives might have been infinitely sadder and more desperate after they gave up on cake, wine and fruit!
I must admit that in the past I’ve been guilty of thinking that if I promoted an idea with the right amount of enthusiasm, I might convince people that I was right. It’s taken me a long time to understand that what people really want is some kind of evidence so that their hearts can align with their brains.
Here’s a practical example…
As long time readers would know, I’m an advocate of simple slides. This is mainly because I’ve been in too many meetings where the slides were so complex that they just confused the issue. The messages weren’t clear and the overall impact was lost. In my view, it’s much better to have some strong clear messages.
But one thing I didn’t realise was that me being passionate about simple slides simply wasn’t cutting the mustard. People thought that simple slides were only good if you had a simple message. They thought that they weren’t appropriate for grand ideas or complicated concepts. It wasn’t until I started to talk about cognitive overload that people realised that confusing people with complex slides was a real thing.
Your audience really can’t take in more than a few key messages no matter how passionate or eloquent you are. People want to believe you (especially if you are passionate)but they also want facts. They need a logical reason to believe that what you say is true so give it to them, but get your facts right.
Don’t be like the popular authors who rely on vague science, get your ducks in a row.