how to become impossible to ignore

#46 – Impossible to ignore by Carmen Simon

dear kafka,

when we meet people and try to persuade them, we work hard on the words we use, what we show them and how we dress. let’s call that meeting Point A.

Point B, however is the other person’s decision-making moment. that could be days, weeks, months after the initial meeting.

In our persuasion efforts, we need to work on Point B and not just Point A.

We need our audience to remember what we say and act on it.

“People act on what they remember, not on what they forget.”

“Forgetting hurts business.”

Our role, as persuaders, is to influence our audience’s memories.

“Getting people to act on what they remember always starts with an intention—an intention they already have or one you wish to place in their minds.”

“The sooner we identify people’s existing intentions or clarify a new intention they would benefit from having, the better we can plan on how to be part of their memories.”

When people act on what they remember, they follow 3 steps:

1. “Notice cues that are linked to their intention”

2. “Search their memory for something related to those cues and intentions”

3.  “And if something is rewarding enough … execute.”

An example of how it works:

1. Cue – I have been thinking about losing weight (intention) when I discovered an old favourite shirt that is now too tight for me.

2. Memory – I remember when I used to go dancing in the shirt and how good I look and feel.

3. Rewarding – I want to feel good again so I execute my plan to lose weight.

Kafka, obviously this is not me as I don’t dance. At least not in public.

The book has made me think a lot about cues.

“When analyzing your own content, ask this: When you are no longer in the room with your listeners, what type of cues will be available in their lives to trigger the appropriate memory and entice them to act?”

For a workshop I conducted, I told the audience that it was their job to make their presentation come alive for our clients by telling stories and using strong case studies. To help them remember and act on my message, I gave them wind-up toys and instructed them to put in on their tables and to look at it when they are preparing their pitches.

Looking back, I could have done more by improving the toy’s linkage to a presentation with good stories and case studies. This way, I could help them retrieve the memory of a good presentation and strengthen the feeling of the reward.

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert recommended this book. He has a Persuasion Reading List.

Tips to strengthen your persuasion efforts

Use cues that are linked to existing habits – if you’re a doctor trying to persuade your patient to take their pills regularly, you can ask them to put their pills by their coffee machine. Since the patients drink coffee every day, they will see the pills and this will increase the chance of them taking the medicine.

“Tie your message to a current but unfulfilled goal. People tend to pay greater attention to and remember more of what is not finished because the brain seeks closure.”

“Link cues to social desirability because impression management is a strong motivation driver. People tend to pay attention to what makes them look good in front of others.”

Save your most important messages for early in the day where people’s willpower is  stronger.

Use what is familiar to the audience – “Our audiences form expectations so that they can predict the next moment. When you give them something they expect, you satisfy a human need for accurate predictions, which generates pleasure.”

“Use the word “imagine” to create anticipation and invite action. People don’t just think about the future; they feel the future, and emotion influences decision-making.”

Strong opening, then delay gratification – “Give people a valuable tool in the first five minutes of a presentation and announce five more for later on.”

The challenge is to create repeatable messages – “we tend to repeat what we hear or see frequently (“I’m lovin’ it”), what carries strong emotions (“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”), what is short (“I’ll be back”), what easily rolls off the tongue (“Wax on. Wax off”), or what rhymes (“I feel the need … the need for speed”).”

Use disfluency strategically and sparingly – you could make an important word in your presentation especially hard to read, this forces your audience to put in more effort to read it.

Create a distinctive message that emphasise rewards – “The brain is constantly looking for rewards. In business, when many messages are the same, we can create distinctiveness, and therefore improve recall, by being specific about these rewards, which we can frame as tangible results.” E.g. – “Using our predictive analytic tools, we helped our shipping customer save 39 million gallons of fuel and avoid driving 364 million miles.”

Invite your audience to be active, not passive by asking questions – E.g. ask: how do these 3 words on the slide describe your business?

Your content should balance the abstract with the specific. E.g. The Burton Company’s vision statement:

“We stand sideways.
We sleep on floors in cramped hotel rooms.
We get up early and go to sleep late.
We’ve been mocked.
We’ve been turned away from resorts that won’t have us.
We are relentless.
We dream it, we make it, we break it, we fix it.
We create.
We destroy.
We wreck ourselves day in and day out and yet we stomp that one trick or find that one line that keeps us coming back.
We progress.”

Use gain messages – We can frame messages to emphasize gains or losses. Research in the health industry, for example, looks at gain-framed versus loss-framed messages and concludes that for prevention medicine where the risk is low, gain-framed messages are more likely to lead to behavior change. For instance, “Join us to find out how an increase in your walking regimen helps to prevent heart disease” works well because there is little risk in walking.

Understand what the audience is thinking about the future: “If our audiences’ brains are constantly on fast-forward, then to be on people’s minds, we have to be part of their future.”


Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here: https://isaiahlim.wordpress.com/category/isaiahlim_newsletter/

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