Someone accused me of having a man-crush on Trump because I keep writing about him. I plead guilty. I have no idea whether he would be a good President or not, and I don’t believe you know either. My man-crush is based on Trump’s persuasion skills. I have never seen better.
I hope that sharing some of Trump’s methods will make you more effective in your own life. And it is fun stuff.
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Who is the better persuader: Donald Trump or Jeb Bush?
Let’s start with this article about Trump’s oft-repeated campaign theme “We have to take our country back.” The article suggests that the sentence is veiled racism and an intentional call to anti-immigration types.
If you look at this situation with a political filter, it sure looks like a secret dog whistle to the anti-immigration folks, as the article suggests. But if you look at it through the filter of a trained hypnotist reviewing the work of another, you see a lot more.
You want to know what I see, right?
Hypnosis rule #1 is that you leave out the details and allow people to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. That’s why, for example, my comic characters have no last names while working in a nameless company for a nameless boss in a nameless location. I don’t want a reader in France to think Dilbert is an American and therefore of little interest. I want the French reader, the Elbonian, and the American to look at the Dilbert characters and say some version of “That character is me!” In order to achieve that effect, I intentionally omit details that would knock you off the track. For example, the minute I give Dilbert a last name it would over-specify his ethnic origins and give folks a reason to feel less connected.
When your intention is persuasion, you need to know when to drop a huge anchor that redirects everyone’s attention to one point and when to do the opposite and create a vague suggestion so people can fill in the blanks on their own. I’ll explain some examples of both.
In the first debate, Megyn Kelly asked Trump to explain his offensive comments about specific women. If Trump had engaged in the question, the headlines the next day would have been about him “walking back” what he said, or lying about what he said, or simply being smeared with the topic in general. It was a perfect media trap. Trump was expected to say something generic and defensive, and then the media would take it out of context and paint him as a horrible sexist. That ploy would have generated a week’s worth of “news” that required no research and no flying into a war zone. Very economical.
But Trump dropped an anchor on the media’s collective asses before the question was fully formed. He interrupted with “Only Rosie O’Donnell” (an unpopular name among core Republicans) and completely owned the headlines after that. That was some genius misdirection, and it was probably planned in advance. So that’s a good example of when to use a strong, visual anchor.
But how does a persuader know when to redirect attention to something specific versus being vague so the audience can fill in the blanks? Let me see if I can answer that for you.
A golden rule in sales is “Don’t sell past the close.” That means that once your customer says yes, you stop talking about the product because you might accidentally say something that stops the sale. You never add detail when the customer is already sold. The less you say, the more likely the customer (who is already sold) will continue talking himself into loving the decision because people like to think they are smart. (Google “cognitive dissonance” for more on that topic.)
Now review Trump’s empty sentence: We need to take America back.
From whom? Notice the intentional lack of detail? In this case, the lack of detail is the powerful part of the sentence.
The media’s political filter automatically goes to immigration, and that interpretation is probably somewhat right. The problem is that it is only 10% of the explanation. The other 90% is what is happening in voters’ heads when they get an open-ended suggestion that someone has somehow stolen the country.
Who did this awful thing???
Is it the top one-percenters who stole all the country’s money?
Is it the liberals?
Is it the politically-correct people?
Is it the immigrants who are taking jobs?
Is it the wrong-headed people in general?
Is it the minorities? The women?
Is it just our reputation in the world that we lost?
Was it our former greatness we lost?
See how the open-ended suggestion works? Every voter is free to fill in the topic of their own greatest fear. Your brain is a movie that creates your personal history, and when the movie finds a gap, your imagination fills it in. It happens automatically and bypasses rational thought. As with the salesperson who has already made the sale, Trump says nothing you can dislike while giving you the freedom to fill in the blanks in the way that influences you the most.
In other words, Trump’s sentence “We need to take America back” invites you to hypnotize yourself to finish the thought. And you do.
Secondly, we know from studies that human brains are wired to have a greater response to loss, or potential loss, than to potential gain. Trump’s slogan about taking back America speaks to loss while retaining the optimism that we can get it back. That is pure, engineered, persuasion perfection.
Trump’s slogan should, by design, make every voter spontaneously imagine the one thing they believe they have lost. It could be anything, from personal privacy to job opportunity to whatever. If you are afraid you lost it, Trump’s slogan makes you think of it automatically. And you just automatically paired your emotional sense of wanting something precious with … Donald Trump.
Many of you still believe Trump’s rise in the polls is some sort of media-generated side show. It isn’t. It is a master class in persuasion paired with perfect timing and a weak field.
And I don’t think I need to explain why Trump’s hat is bright red, or why he is keeping his hair covered. There are no accidents in Trump’s world.
You might think that all world-class politicians have the same set of linguistic tools at their command. Let’s check that assumption by taking a look at Jeb Bush’s recent campaign utterances to see how they match up on the persuasion scale.
Jeb Bush recently said that Trump was a Democrat longer than he was a Republican in the past decade. That sounds like a good zinger, right? It got a lot of press, just as Bush wanted. Does Bush win that round?
Mentioning Trump’s party change might have been a good thing to say before Trump was trouncing Bush in the polls and locking up the nomination. But today it sounds like Bush is telling independent voters that Trump is not a slave to any party. They love that. And independents will probably decide the election.
It would be hard to engineer a worse thing for Bush to say at this stage.
Bush has also been saying on the campaign trail that Trump favored a tax hike on the wealthy. Again, it would have been a great thing to say before Trump became the probable Republican nominee. But saying that sort of thing today is telling Democrats and Independents that Trump is not the greedy billionaire you were afraid he might be. It solves one of Trump’s biggest problems.
On the persuasion scale, and looking at only these few examples, Trump gets his usual A+ and Jeb Bush gets whatever is worse than a failing grade. I say worse because failing in this context would mean having no impact on voters, but Bush probably convinced voters to prefer his opponent. You can’t fail harder than that.
These are just anecdotes. The fun here is seeing how many of the examples going forward fit the persuasion hypothesis.
I remind you that in my opinion all of the candidates on both sides are reasonably qualified for the job of president. Trump has a huge persuasion advantage, but I don’t know how that would translate into the job of president.
Update 1: See this political thinker dismiss Trump’s linguistic savvy and try to explain his success as nothing but the public’s distaste for government. That is one small part of it. I’m fairly sure the other candidates are promising to change/fix everything too. Why don’t we believe them?
There is a reason Trump’s message penetrates the crowd noise while the other candidates crawl back to their dark corners. Trump is trained in the art of persuasion, and literally wrote the book on it. His opponents are politicians. That’s comparing a bazooka to a fly-swatter.
Update 2: Here’s a new story about Jeb Bush saying things that opponents are taking out of context, thus causing him to defend himself from the professional Outragists. Compare Bush’s strategy of defending himself with facts versus Trump’s method of ballsy redirection and emotionally nailing the listener to an entirely different topic. Which method looks more effective to you?
My updated prediction is that Trump will win the general election by a large margin. (Prior prediction was a small margin.)
In Top Tech Blog today, how about a 3D printer that can print ten different materials? That seems close to the point at which robots can build new robots. One futurist predicted that when robots can build robots, everything changes. For example, robots could build power generation plants in the desert on the cheap and solve the world’s energy problems. Not sure I believe that yet.
Have you read my book yet?*
(”yet” in this context is a persuasion word. It is meant to cause you to think “no” while accepting the “yet” part without reason.)