The Daily Show: The power of Chunking

The July 28 episode of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart had author Peter Tomsen talking about his 900 page(!) book “The Wars of Afghanistan”.

Throughout, he summarized his key points using elements of Chunk Theory – for example, the numbering of points before explaining them.

In response to one question, he said “there are two reasons…” which he explained. BUT, then said “Finally…” and attempted to add another reason.


I’m sorry, you said 2 things not 3
The host, John Stewart, stopped him cold: “I’m sorry, you said 2 things…”

They joked about that for a while and Jon allowed him to share his third point.

But the issue here is that ‘speaking in chunks’ – in this case outlining the number of points you will make before you make them – is a technique that is engaging enough to keep the full attention of your listener.

This simple but powerful approach virtually forces people to give you time to address each point. We can’t help it. We literally process information in ‘chunks’ so it always seems reasonable to listen to (and check off) numbered points. The details might be overwhelming, but breaking it into chunks keeps people on board.


Flout this principle at your own peril
It’s power is highlighted when you abuse it.

The listener is primed for (in this case) 2 chunks, so when you violate your own principle and attempt 3 chunks, it feels so noticeable, so glaring, so conspicuous. We can’t let slide such a flagrant breach of the structure laid out for the conversation.

This just shows how irresistible the chunked ‘conversation structure’ can be to an audience.


If you’d like to develop persuasive communication skills, consider:

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