It’s the kind of summer work day where you feel compelled to go out for lunch. A friend of mine arranged the whole thing. Six of us met up at a local spot for a two-hour “lunch.” I knew three of the people there. Two of them I met for the first time.

We started with drinks. I settled for a coffee. The guy sitting next to me boasted about being a coffee expert.

I happen to know a thing or two about coffee. Him? Not so much. He knew nothing about bean quality, roasting or preparing coffee. He rattled off a few fancy terms but in a nonsensical way. Think of a musician combining random musical notes without any thought behind it.

“Okay. Maybe he’s nervous. He just wants to impress. Nothing unusual,” I thought.

The lunch comes to an end and I walk to the subway with a friend of mine. This friend is an active investor in distressed real estate. He buys run down properties, fixes them up and sells them.

On our way to the subway, he mentioned he had a conversation about this with the same guy who feigned expertise in coffee.

No surprise, he claimed expertise in distressed property investment too. My friend said he claimed to invest in several distressed properties that were all money makers. When he heard him describe how he made money he said it was obvious he’d never done anything like this before.

Now, it was obvious. He’s one of those guys. We all know someone like this.  He thinks he knows everything. You will never upstage him. He boasts about his successful exploits which turn out to be lies.

Superiority Gene

He feels the need to be superior to anyone on any subject. Fine. I can deal with that. They’re easy to spot. Once you figure them out, they’re somewhat amusing.

The truth is, we all crave a touch of superiority fever every now and then.

Here is the difference between us and this guy.

We like to feel superior in the skills and subjects where we know we possess expertise.

Superior Persuasion

Violation of that rule undermines many persuasive writing efforts – especially newbies. They position themselves as smarter than their audience in things their audience prides themselves. Sure, if you’re an expert, present yourself as one. Here’s the key. Leave something for your audience to hang their hat on.

Let’s suppose you’re an expert in social media marketing. You present yourself as an expert – and hopefully you are. Your audience respects the word of an expert but they also prefer their hero to show a modicum of humility. Be sure to reveal a struggle, something that still challenges you.

When I was in sales, a mentor gave me this advice time and again:

“People feel better about themselves when compared to someone who’s worse off. Show your expertise but make sure they get a moral victory too.”

It was timely inter-personal advice.  Let your reader, prospect or audience feel superior to you in some way. It goes a long way to making you likable.

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We just finished a big dinner at a local restaurant. My family and I walked around town, enjoying the summer weather. We live in a smallish town with about 12,000 people. Despite being only forty minutes outside New York City, we’re pretty laid back. The big difference I notice is when we cross streets. Cars go out of their way to allow you to cross. They’ll stop at intersections. If they see you approaching an intersection, they’ll stop in anticipation of you crossing the street.

There’s one subtle, but telling difference between suburban and city life. Crossing the street is safer. Cars go out of their way to allow you to cross. They’ll stop at intersections. If they see you approaching an intersection, they’ll stop in anticipation of you crossing the street.

That’s a far cry of what I experience in city life. Crossing the street in the city requires a leap of faith and razor sharp alertness. The people aren’t meaner. They’re the same people. It’s the context and circumstances that alter their behavior.

We like to believe that we act according to our principles and beliefs regardless of our external circumstances. The truth is, context and external situations influence our emotions and behavior.

Context Matters

Accounting for context is an important piece of building that connection and trust with your audience. Take this situation as an example. You’re appealing to men who want to get rid of their pot bellies. Sure, tell him about how great he’ll look with his six pack abs. Don’t forget the context in which they live. Touch on what it’s like to be at the beach and face the embarrassment of taking off your shirt.

Let’s pretend you appeal to men who desire to rid themselves of extra weight around the gut. Sure, tell him about how great he’ll look with his six pack abs. Don’t forget the context in which they live. Touch on what it’s like to be at the beach and face the embarrassment of taking off your shirt.

Preaching a health food that prevents disease? Talk about the indignity of walking around in a hospital gown, being poked and prodded like you were someone’s medical experiment.

“Wow, that’s exactly how I feel.”

If your audience thinks that, you’ve won the first half of the battle.

Think about the world in which your audience lives. That gives you the context and understanding in which your audience sees and interprets the world.

The Two Sides Of Context

The two sides of context give you the understanding to empathize with your audience.

What is the setting or circumstances your reader finds himself in right now?

What is his perspective on why he faces his current problem or cannot capitalize on an opportunity?

Keep in mind most of us attribute our failures or challenges to external influences. You may think your audience is struggling to succeed because of their effort. They likely attribute that struggle to the economy, lack of opportunity or pesky regulations.

Make sure your views align with his thinking and you’ll have a better shot at winning his support.


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The kids ran into the restaurant like they owned the place. A stern voice from me calmed them down, at least for the moment.

The hostess greeted us with a smile. An interesting conversation followed:

“Hi, three people today?” she said


“It’s a beautiful day to eat outside. If you’ll follow me you can have your pick of tables.” 

Without thinking I agreed and she ushered us outside.

Like she said, we had the outside to ourselves. It wasn’t until later I realized what happened.

Planting A Seed

Did you notice she didn’t ask if we wanted to sit outside? She led us. There were a few big crowds inside, including a party. No doubt, she saw my kids and decided they might be a nuisance to other guests.

Telling me they didn’t want us inside would have been insulting. Instead, she used a subtle technique to lead me to that conclusion.

First, she made a simple comment about how nice it is to dine outside. That was the setup.

Next, she presupposed we wanted to eat outside. Instead of asking if we wanted to eat outside she said:

“If you’ll follow me you can have your pick of tables”

She never asked if I wanted to eat outside. She assumed the answer would be yes. Of course, I could have interrupted the flow and requested to eat inside.

It happened so fast I didn’t have time to think. My brain operated on auto pilot. In fact, it wasn’t until writing in my journal that I realized what happened.

Presupposition Power

That’s the power of a well-crafted presupposition.  The receiver never notices. They simply go with the flow.

Presupposing is not just a tactic for crafty restaurant hosts.

Copywriters, political writers and media use and abuse this tactic all the time. Unless you’re looking for it, you never know what’s really going on.

Putting it into practice is simple. The hard part is remembering to do it.

You assume at the beginning of the argument that the answer to the first question aligns to the second question.

The formula looks like this:

1. A question with a yes or no answer

2. If the answer is yes, then ask the follow up (why, how, how much, what)

That represents a typical line of questioning.

Instead of that pattern, assume the answer to the first question is yes and only ask the second question.

Here’s an example. Let’s pretend I have these two questions

  1. Does this program work for all types of businesses?
  2. If yes, then ask: why does it work for all types of businesses? Or, what makes it work for all types of businesses?

Instead, skip the first question. Assume the answer is yes.

Ask: What makes this program work for all types of businesses?

Presuppose In Mass Media

Here’s a typical example you hear in the media.

If I ask you this question:

“Why is the mayor so averse to change?”

That question presupposes the mayor is, in fact, averse to change. You’re asked to defend why without being asked if you agree with the original premise.

Try this exercise. Watch your favorite news channel. Take note of all the presuppose questions. The frequency will surprise you, no matter what your political persuasion.

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There’s a famous line from the 19765 movie, Network. The character Howard Beale goes on air and goes off script. The famous line from his rant:

Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. ’ 

Some days you hit crisis after crisis. Ten people come at you ten different ways. They may all want different things but they share one thing in common. They demand your most precious resource – your time.

Customers, co-workers and everyone in between huddled up in the morning and decided to attack. At least, that’s what it felt like. I gave in without complaining. I held in my feelings and played along.. Just before 1 PM I hit my breaking point. I couldn’t take it any longer.  I fought back.

Just like Howard Beale in Netowrk, I gave my own rant.

I stated

I’m going to lunch. I’ll get to it later

It doesn’t sound like much. In fact, it sounds mundane. But understand the context. It was in the middle of a crisis. Of course, it wasn’t a real crisis but everyone acted like they were in crisis mode.  Going out to lunch while everyone else is in crisis mode rubs people the wrong way. They think you don’t care.

At that point, I didn’t care and I didn’t care what anyone thought. I reached a breaking point.

The Breaking Point

The breaking point is where the fun begins. Before the breaking point, we feel comfortable going with the flow. We stay in harmony with the crowd even if it goes against our desires. All the while anger swells. When it reaches a tipping point, we lose control.

That’s exactly what you want as a persuasive writer. You want to build up the emotion to a point where the audience reaches their breaking point. It doesn’t matter if it’s losing weight, mishandled customer support or working in a job they hate. You want your audience to say

Damn It. I’m sick of this. I need to do something about it.

Bringing your reader to the breaking point gets them past inertia. Inertia is what hinders us from taking action.

The Three C’s Of Unbridled Emotion

There are several tools to create this kind of emotion. This is not a complete list but these are three common techniques. You’ve seen them used (abused) in everything from fiction to politics.

Conflict – Any kind of conflict generates emotion. Wars, arguments, struggles allow us to picture ourselves in the middle of the action. We may even root for one side to win.

Conspiracy – Who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory. The government is monitoring you. We all have our conspiracy theories we cling to. When you confirm someone’s conspiracy theory and they think “Ah. I knew it!” – instant emotion.

Conceptual Victim –  I call this conceptual victimization to distinguish between the real victimization tyrants have abused throughout history. Here’s how it works.

Tell a story about how your enemy takes advantage of vulnerable victims. It can be a conceptual enemy. Transform scientific information into something visceral.Explaining the deep science behind DNA and weight gain generates zero emotion. Instead, tell a story of how rogue DNA forces your brain to send you uncontrollable hunger signals. Victimization generates emotion, almost always anger.



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It seemed like a good idea at the time. It was a beautiful summer evening. We readied ourselves for a night out for dinner by ourselves.

“Why don’t we go to a restaurant with outdoor seating?” I asked when we got in the car.

“Yeah, great idea.” she responded

We went to a local restaurant with a nice outdoor patio. We sat down at a great table. I ordered a glass of wine. That was the peak of the experience.

My wife put on jeans. She thought she’d be cold in air conditioning. We decided on the outdoor place after we left the house. The heat and humidity made her uncomfortable.

The server brought out our appetizers. In an instant flies swarmed around us. Every few seconds one of us was swatting away flies.

The decision to eat outside turned into one of regret. We both admitted it was a bad decision.

It’s easy to admit you made a mistake in these kinds of situations.  There’s little at stake.

In other situations, it’s not so easy to admit you made the wrong choice.

The Bad Commitment Cycle

In sales and marketing, we often come across prospects trapped in the bad commitment cycle. 

A prospect or customer trapped in the bad commitment cycle.  Avoid framing his previous commitment as a mistake. Instead, frame it as the right decision at the time based on available information. This frees them from their current commitment and opens them up to new ideas.

Here’s what’s odd about this tool. It works just as well when I use it on myself as when I use it in copywriting or marketing.

You see, awareness of making a bad commitment is never the problem. We know when we make bad commitments. The problem is admitting it to ourselves and others. We fear looking stupid in front of others. We fear shattering our own image of ourselves.

What we need is a cover story. A plausible reason why we made the bad commitment frees us of negative self-talk and protects our image.

Framing it as the best decision given the information available provides that necessary cover story.

I see other writers fall back on the “it’s not your fault” reasoning. I tend to avoid this. It comes across as condescending. Plus, most people think they’re intelligent. They feel they’re  not the sort who falls for deception.

Creating The Cover Story

Creating the cover story is simple.  Follow these steps

  1. Identify the bad commitment they need to break.
  2. What information was available at the time?
  3. What new information became available later?
  4. How did the lack of new information make the earlier decision the best available?
  5. Write out your argument

This technique works just as well on ourselves as it does on others. We know when we’re stuck in a bad commitment. We just need an excuse to break it without admitting fault.

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For months I had put it off. Every few years I call in the professionals to do some tree pruning. I live a neighborhood called Tall Oaks. As you can guess, there’s a lot of tall oak trees. I put it off because of the expense.

This morning I went out back to play some basketball. A brief gust of wind came through. I heard a loud bang. A huge branch fell off the oak tree and landed in front of our playset. After I caught my breath, I calmed down. I went inside and called a tree maintenance company.

“How soon can you come by?”

Sorcery Persuasion

My story is an example of absolute urgency.

It is the strongest driver that compels someone to take action.  In medieval times, they’d have thought it was sorcery

The cost of the tree service no longer mattered. The thought of one of my kids standing where that branch fell eliminated that concern.

Shoring up my trees is not only urgent but imperative.

Here’s a general example that anyone would identify with.

Imagine getting a letter from your doctor reminding you about your annual checkup. You put it off for a few weeks.

“I hate going to the doctor. All the pointing and prodding. Plus, it’s a few hundred out of pocket.”

You finally make your appointment and go for your checkup. A few days later your doctor calls you.

“Jim. Are you home? Is your wife with you? Good. Don’t be alarmed. I got your blood test results. Have your wife drive you to the emergency room right now. I’ll meet you there.”

You hear something like that and all other concerns disappear. Everything on your to-do list disappears. Does insurance cover it? Worry about that later.

That’s imperative urgency.

The Three Types Of Urgency

It’s a well-known fact. Urgency compels us to take action.

Urgency – Importance requiring swift action

What makes something urgent? According to the definition, it’s importance plus a deadline.

Here’s the problem. Importance is an abstract concept. That means we may not agree on what is or is not important. You see the problem, right? If you feel the action lacks importance you won’t agree that it’s urgent.

Fake Urgency

This is now pervasive in the online world. It happens when one side sets an artificial limit on a limitless quantity. Let’s pretend someone wants to sell you an ebook. They send you an email stating:

“Only 24 copies left. Buy now. “

Of course, there are no physical limitations on ebooks. You can sell a billion of them.  There are other variations on this. Artificial deadlines are attempts to create urgency. You know they’re fake when things open up a week later.

True Urgency

Moving up the ladder we come to real urgency. This occurs when there is a real limitation on a product or service. Printing one thousand books is an example. Suppose you have thirty-six left. Now, real urgency exists because once they’re gone, you’ve lost the opportunity – at least until the next printing.

“If they run out, they run out. It’s fine.”

True urgency exists when demand outpaces supply.

Here’s the limitation with true urgency. Desire is subject a cost-benefit analysis.

Expense, inconvenience and priorities impact true urgency. I may want the book you’re selling. At $20, I crave it. At $100, I lose interest.

Absolute Urgency

This is the top rung of urgency. Like real urgency, we demand something. We need to take swift action.

Here’s the difference.

Expense, inconvenience or other priorities are no longer a concern. We push everything else to the back burner. Like my tree situation, I called up the company to come in yesterday. With our fictional medical example, the patient drops what he’s doing and rushes to the emergency room.

If you’re in the business of satisfying imperative urgency you’ll never be short of customers.

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I thought these spam emails went out of style in the early 2000’s.  Perhaps they’re making a comeback? Most spam filters weed out 99% of emails like this. This one made it through.

It’s a simple email. Inside are instructions to retrieve my 3.5 million dollars.  I had the good sense to pass up the opportunity.

Sorry, Mr. Bernald. I shan’t be contacting you.

I know what you’re thinking. Bad grammar and an absurd claim. Why would anyone fall for this?

Scammer History Lesson

You may already be familiar with the famous story of Count Lustig who tried sold the Eiffel Tower to scrap metal dealers (twice). If not, here are the cliff notes:

Lustig portrayed himself as a government agent. His job was to sell the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal. The decision to sell the tower had already been made, but not yet made public. He invited the top five dealers to submit bids. A week later the winning bid was selected. Lustig walked off with a one million dollar down payment. The sucker realized he fell for a con a week later. He was so embarrassed to have fallen for such a scam, he did nothing. Lustig later repeated the scam on another victum.

There are differences between the simple email scams of today and the grand heist of Lustig. Lustig went to great lengths to make these sophisticated businessmen feel like it was a legitimate transaction. Modern scam emails appear amateur by comparison.

There are two similarities worth mentioning. In both cases, victims are embarrassed when they realize they’ve been conned. This prevents many from going to the police. The thief takes enough money to sting but not enough for the victim to seek revenge.

The other similarity is the boldness of the lie. In the email scam, a promise of $50 might seem more believable. But then these scammers would be inundated with requests. By claiming $3,500,000 they assure themselves of only getting a few responses. Lustig’s claim was so ludicrous, you would never expect someone to make it up.

Lessons From Scammers

What’s the takeaway from scammers? Are there any lessons we can use for legitimate purposes? There are two takeaways.

The Bold Beat The Timid

I’m not suggesting the outlandish claims that scammers perpetrate. Boldness takes many forms. The benefits can be bold. In some cases you simply cannot promise bold benefits due to the nature of your product. You can offer a bold guarantee. Lifetime money back guarantees are bold. If you sell a support heavy business you can make bold promises about that. Get creative about what you can do with your offer and make a bold promise.

Niche Down

Scammers don’t try and scam the entire world. Lustig wanted just one sucker – a rich scrap metal dealer. The email scammers want only a handful of respondents. As an entrepreneur on a budget, I know I can win by focusing on a small slice of a large pie. I can create a more laser-focused message that appeals to their individual wants.

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I had an idea for a story today. The second I heard about this I knew I’d write about it. I was going to expose the social media giants for illicit spying. But first I needed proof.

Here’s the backstory.

A few days ago my wife went to Whole Foods. She wanted to try out Macca tea. She heard the hype about it. Maybe it’s time to give it a shot. She picked up the package of Macca tea. She mulled buying but decided against it. That’s where the story should have ended.

Later that day, advertisements for Macca tea flooded her Facebook feed.

“Did you do a search on it? They’re just retargting you.” I said

“No. I never searched it. I only picked up the package and then these ads appeared.”

Wow. Has the hardware and software advanced to the point where it could read the packaging and then target ads? There’s only one way to find out. I would try and reproduce it myself.

Off I went to Whole Foods yesterday to conduct my own experiment. I picked up the package of Macca Green Tea. I waved it around my phone. Just to be sure, I rubbed it against my phone.

“Can I help you with something?” An employee asked

“No thanks. I’m okay,” I said

I decided that would be enough. One more odd move and they might have thrown me out of the store.

… And The Results

I checked my Facebook feed several times since my test. Not a single ad for Macca anywhere. In one sense, I’m happy. Had the test produced the expected results it would be disconcerting. On the other hand, it would have made for a really great story.

The Power Of Hype

This story had a sensationalized flair to it as it played out. We were so certain that our phones could read packing labels without our knowledge and then use that data against us. The emotion, passion and boldness sucked me into believing it was true. I was sure my own experiment would duplicate the results. Granted, that feature may not be far off. Today, however, it is not the case.

That’s the power of hype. Boldness plus emotion plus repetition yields believability. When my own experiment failed, it came crashing down like a house of cards.

How Far Can You Take It?

Hype is prevalent in much of today’s business world. You’re always shining the best light on your business. The tendency is to stretch the benefits to the edge of truth. Taken too far, any hyped up story falls apart when you fail to meet expectations.

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Creating The Marketing Afterglow

I never expected this. My mouth began to salivate with excessive frequency. A constant urge to spit overwhelmed me. I rushed over to the nearest bathroom. I stood there and spat out about once every thirty seconds. After five minutes, the urge subsided.

“I will never do that again!” I said to myself.

This was not some odd medical issue. Nor was it a drug side effect. I tried a new mouthwash. I don’t know what they put in this new and improved mouthwash. Whatever it was, it didn’t sit well with me.

Once upon a time, you took a swig of mouthwash. It burned like hell and you spit it out. That burning sensation made you feel like it did its job. I guess the new mouthwash formula does the same by stimulating the salivary glands. If that’s the purpose of it, they may want to dial it back a notch.

A lot of products create similar after effects. Businesses know these after effects make us feel like the product is working. Some common examples:

–        The tingle you get from toothpaste

–        Lemon scented cleaners

–        Progress bars on software

When we see these demonstrations, we feel the product is doing its job. The lemon scent doesn’t actually clean. The progress bar isn’t really proof that it’s working. How many times have you seen it stuck on 99% for an eternity?

On some level we know this. Still, it gives us a sense of comfort and satisfies our desire for proof.

Creating Your After Effect

Did you know your writing can accomplish the same effect? It’s true, you can create your own after effect just like mouthwash, progress bars and lemon scented dish detergent.

In writing, whether it’s business, personal or otherwise you have one key weapon at your disposal.


How your audience feels after reading your piece is the after effect.

You can create this effect in your own marketing efforts. I’ve come across several strategies that work. One technique remains my go-to strategy most of the time.

It’s a simple three step process.

Step 1 – Create Hope

Let’s assume your audience suffers from a problem that you solve. You offer him hope that his problem is no longer a mystery. It’s explainable. And you know how to solve it. Hope is a powerful tool that stirs emotion and holds the attention of your audience. Be bold when you say you will solve his problem. Timid assurances do not inspire hope.

Step 2 – Give Certainty

Human beings crave certainty. We feel certain in our beliefs. We’re drawn to leaders who exude certainty in their actions and statements. Insurance companies make a living on our craving for certainty. Compare these two statements. Which one gives you more confidence?

“Follow these steps, exactly as outlined, and you’ll land your dream job in three months.”

“Follow these steps exactly as outlined. With a bit of luck, you’ll land your dream job in the near future.” 

Step 3 – Desire

You’ve created hope. You’ve given certainty. The stage is set. Now, you fuel desire. The stronger the desire, the more likely your prospect overcomes inertia and takes action. The best way to fuel desire is by focusing on the benefits. The best method of presenting benefits is bullets.

If you haven’t downloaded my free bullet guide, you can find it here.


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For the first time ever, my wife and I took a fitness class together. We had never taken one before. I usually prefer to go it alone. Somehow, I managed to embarrass myself. A few minutes after the class started, a NJ symphony summer camp joined us. About fifteen teenagers plus three adults readied for the H.I.I.T class. Just as the music started I stepped back and knocked over my (uncovered) water bottle.

Water spilled all over the floor. It seemed like the water reproduced and created more water. I ran over to the paper towel dispenser. Of course, it was empty. The one outside the room was full. I grabbed a bunch and ran back to the spill. I felt everyone’s eyes on me as the music blasted. It almost felt like everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at me.

After the class, I mentioned that one of the kids distracted. That distraction caused the spilled water incident. The truth is it was my own clumsiness and lack of gym experience.

My knee-jerk reaction was to avoid responsibility. I blamed someone else.

The Persuasion Technique As Old As Civilization

Blaming others for our mistakes is as old as humans.

The use of scapegoats is as old as civilazation itself, and examples of it can be found in cultures around the world. – Robert Greene, The 48 Laws Of Power

Nobody likes to admit they exploit the power of scapegoating. Almost all of us have done it. If you’ve spent more than five minutes in the corporate world, you’ve probably done it yourself. You’re late on a project or deliverable and the boss asks why. You claim that another department failed to meet their timelines to you or someone else caused the delay.

We use scapegoating for trivial things like avoiding the embarrassment of clumsy behavior in a fitness class. It’s also been used  on much grander scales with devastating consequences throughout history.

Ethical Scapegoating?

Yes, it may seem hard to believe. You can exploit scapegoating without sacrificing your ethics. Here’s an example that illustrates how.

Let’s pretend you’re selling a weight loss product. You konw that telling your customer it’s because of his eating habits will fall flat. It will just make him angry. You need to blame his troubles on someone or something else.

Instead of blaming his troubles on his own behavior, blame them on his DNA. It’s his DNA that’s causing him to overeat. That’s his innocent scapegoat. You’re assigning blame to a thing, but not a person. It’s something he can identify with.

“You’re right. It’s because of my DNA that I’m having all these troubles, ” he says to himself

You can also use abstract concepts. Blame his troubles on a government entity enslaved to big business that feeds him faulty nutrition advice.

In short, remember rule one in persuasion. Never tell someone their troubles are their own doing.



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