Repetition vs. Variation

There is a common notion that you need to repeat your message several times for it to penetrate and make an impact. I can understand this view and where it comes from, but I, for one, find repetition very annoying. When I read a text or listen to a speaker and keep hearing the same explicit message repeatedly, I feel like I am being tricked (or that the author is lazy). 

But there is a way to repeat the core idea you aim to articulate without explicitly repeating it too many times, and in many cases, it is a much more effective and compelling way to do so. Instead of repeating your messages as is, use variations of the idea. 

Variations make the audience more alert (in a good way). Our mind loves patterns, but at the same time, it is drawn to changes and unexpected breakage of patterns. We are wired to spot these differences and tune into them. When you repeat your message with some variation, your audience will notice it. A variation invites the audience to play with the idea, spot the differences, and utilize them to draw conclusions. 

Good variations use nuances and new insights to enhance the core idea. They build additional value on the original concept instead of just reusing it. 

Here are three types of variations you can apply to practically any message you wish to communicate. 

A Different Perspective 

Presenting a different perspective does not mean providing counterarguments to the idea you wish to express (not that this is a flawed approach — counterarguments can spice up your content and make your view more reliable). A different perspective can add nuance and shed some light on something implicit or vague in the original idea. 

If I say, for example, that in some cases, the audience might find it challenging to connect the variation with the original idea, I am not contradicting the message that variations are an effective tool. I am adding a nuance that adds value: You should verify that the variations you use are effective and not distracting. 

A different perspective adds depth to your idea in the same way that viewing an object from two angles creates a three-dimensional image. Adding a different perspective makes your idea less shallow and, therefore, more robust. People are more likely to be able to apply it and benefit from it. 

A Metaphor 

A metaphor helps your audience understand (and memorize) your idea by applying other, previously known concepts from a completely different domain. 

A good metaphor is playful and thought-provoking. It invites your audience to explore the similarities and differences between the concept you are discussing and the metaphor’s domain. This is especially true when you avoid spelling everything out explicitly. 

When used correctly, a metaphor doesn’t sound like a repetition at all. With an analogy, you can repeat the same idea by using not only different words but a completely different playground. 

An Example 

An example or case study allows you to repeat your core ideas while keeping your audience engaged and alert. Applying your ideas to a real-world context makes them more appealing and their value more prominent. 

Just like metaphors and new perspectives, a good example doesn’t just apply the idea as is but adds nuance and depth. Real-world problems are often more nuanced than the abstract ideas we write about. By highlighting this complexity, your ideas become more reliable, and the audience becomes more confident in applying them to their challenges.

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