Elon Musk is wicked smart.

“But when he explains technology to consumers he uses language even a sixth-grader can read,” observes Carmine Gallo in his book The Storyteller’s Secret.

“Welcome everyone to the announcement of Tesla Energy.  What I’m going to talk about tonight is a fundamental transformation of how the world works, about how energy is delivered across Earth,” Elon Musk began his remarks about Tesla’s new Powerwall offering.

“This is how it is today.  It’s pretty bad.  It sucks.  I just want to be clear because sometimes people are confused about it.  This is real.  This is actually how most power is generated, with fossil fuels.”

The Flesch-Kinkaid readability test measures word length, sentence length, and other factors to assign a grade level for a specific text.  Articles in the Harvard Business Review are scored at grade level 17.  New York Times articles score at ninth grade.  “Texts to be read by the general public should aim for level of around 8.”

The Flesch-Kinkaid score for Elon’s remarks above?

Sixth grade.

Elon continued: “The solution is in two parts.  Part one, the sun.  We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun.  You don’t have to do anything.  It just works.  It shows up every day and produces ridiculous amounts of power.”

Flesch-Kinkaid score?

2.9. Meaning a child finishing second grade gets it.  

What’s missing?

Talk about nominal current or amps at peak output or technical specs or backup applications.

Steve Jobs also understood the power of simple words.

In 2003, Steve transformed the music industry and persuaded millions of music fans to pay 99 cents per song when many were getting nothing for songs from peer-to-peer sharing sites like Napster.

“How much is 99 cents?  How many of you had a Starbucks latte this morning?” Steve asked.  “Three bucks.  That’s three songs.  How many lattes got sold across the U.S. this morning?  A lot.  Ninety-nine cents is pretty affordable.”

The Flesch-Kinkaid score for Steve’s entire, unabridged introduction of iTunes?

4th grade.  Fourth graders could follow along.

Elon, Steve, and other effective communicators don’t use jargon or overly-technical phrases.  Instead, they carry the day with simple, straight-forward language.

More tomorrow.


Reflection: Am I surprised by Elon and Steve’s communication style?

Action: Test my content for an upcoming presentation at www.readability-score.com

[Aside: I ran this post through the Flesch-Kinkaid readability test and scored grade 6.]

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