A few weeks ago, I finished a book called Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson and Malcolm Gladwell. Having run many marathons in the past, and still running six or seven days a week, I’m always interested to learn tips that can help improve my performance. This post isn’t about improving running performance but if you remember what I share it will help you improve your persuasion performance.
As a persuader, one question you need to ask yourself when giving a presentation or sharing information is, “What do I want them to remember?” This jumped out at me as I read the following paragraph from Endure:
“Personally, my gut instinct is to hope that anti-doping authorities proactively ban the technique before it becomes widespread, simply because I’m uncomfortable with imagining my sixteen-year-old self, desperate for any athletic edge, playing around with scalp-mounted electrodes. But I fully understand that others might disagree with banning an apparently safe and noninvasive way of boosting performance.”
Did you catch the subtlety? Alex was a competitive runner for many years and clearly opens with his desire to ban electronic brain stimulation to enhance performance while acknowledging the other side of the debate.
A master persuader would have remembered that people generally forget what comes before “but” and focus on what comes after. Just think of this phrase and you’ll know what I mean, “Honey, I love you but…” You tend to forget the “I love you” and focus on what comes next which is never as nice as love.
If Alex really wanted to drive home his point he should have written the paragraph the following way:
“I fully understand that others might disagree with banning an apparently safe and noninvasive way of boosting performance but personally, my gut instinct is to hope that anti-doping authorities proactively ban the technique before it becomes widespread, simply because I’m uncomfortable with imagining my sixteen-year-old self, desperate for any athletic edge, playing around with scalp-mounted electrodes.”
This rearranged paragraph starts out acknowledging the other side of the argument but ends with the desire to ban the practice. Does it seem like I’m knit picking? Does the order of a few words really matter that much? Consider these two paragraphs:
- “The impact of your donation has never been greater than it is today, but we know how difficult it is for many people to give during these difficult economic times.”
- “We know how difficult it is for many people to give during these difficult economic times, but the impact of your donation has never been greater than it is today.”
Both paragraphs use exactly the same words. The first paragraph leaves you focused on the difficulty of giving whereas the second ends with you focusing on the importance of your donation. In this real-life comparison the second paragraph drew 36% more donations than the first paragraph!
Most people wouldn’t notice the difference in the order of words until it’s pointed out. However, that subtle difference still registers in the back of the mind because so much persuasion takes place at the subconscious level. This is a small, costless change that can lead to a big difference in your ability to successfully persuade.
The goal of Endure is much bigger than persuading or not persuading people to try brain stimulation as a performance enhancer. But words matter and, in this case, the author would have done well to carefully consider what he wanted people to remember. Indeed, you and I would do well to carefully think through what we want people to remember when we’re communicating. The use of transitional words like “but” and “however” can make a huge difference if the information you share is positioned correctly.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 120,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.