If you’re old enough to be reading this, you’re probably old enough to remember the USDA food pyramid. That colorful triangle divided into sections showed the recommended amounts for each food group, and guided generations of Americans through making healthier food choices.
Although it was eventually replaced by the new and improved MyPlate diagram, it can still teach you a lot about communications. Consider the pyramid when you’re trying to develop and share an important message.
Pyramid Lessons for Developing a Message
1. Use everyday examples. Any communication becomes more vivid and interesting if it’s tied to real life. Explain $10 to your child by telling them how much pizza it would buy.
2. Quantify your statements. While the figures sometimes changed over the years, the pyramid always gave a recommended number of servings for each food group. Numbers provide clarity and make any claims sound more convincing.
3. Divide items into categories. It’s easier to remember a long list of facts if they’re sorted into logical groups. Maybe your monthly department reports would look better if you added sub-headers to the format.
4. Draw pictures. Illustrations sometimes have greater impact than words. Make your correspondence livelier by including images that will grab people’s attention. Take your own photos or browse online for images in the public domain.
5. Simplify information. With complex subjects like nutrition, it’s easy to get lost in vast amounts of material. Pick out a few key points to focus on.
6. Offer additional details. Make it easy for people to learn more. Provide opportunities to ask questions and read further.
7. Try color coding. Streamline your presentation by conveying information through color choices. It can help you say more in fewer words.
8. Write lists. People joke about lists but they still read them. Turn some of your best content into Top 10 lineups.
9. Keep it brief. Package some content into short blurbs. Be ready with an elevator pitch and daily tips.
Pyramid Lessons for Sharing a Message
1. Encourage one change at time. Nutrition experts urged people to fill at least half their plate with vegetables and fruit before moving on to discussing other habits. Ask an employee to work on a single positive change rather than overwhelming them with multiple demands.
2. Create sub-messages. The pyramid was accompanied by different materials for everyone from preschoolers to health care professionals. Take your audience into account.
3. Consult experts. Physicians and farmers contributed to the food pyramid. When you’re coordinating your own projects, reach out for specialized knowledge and diverse views.
4. Recruit partners. Similarly, the government invited schools, community groups and other organizations to spread the word about making more nutritious food choices. Think about who you can work with to become more effective.
5. Expect good things to spread. You may be surprised to learn that even though the USDA food pyramid was the most famous of its kind, it was Sweden that came up with the concept. Promising ideas travel far.
6. Be open to improvements. As mentioned, the pyramid thrived for almost 20 years before getting upgraded into the new MyPlate. However successful a venture may be, something better may come along. Welcome changes that lead to even more outstanding communications.
Remember the food pyramid when you’re trying to persuade your boss about a new idea or encourage your kids to do their homework. It will come in handy when you have valuable information you want to share with others so they can apply it to their own lives.