New Year’s Resol-excuses

Why do so many people set new goals and new resolutions every time there’s a new year? I’m going to tell you something new about that.

But first, why don’t we set new goals and new resolutions as often in the middle of the year?

Are Independence-day resolutions just too pretentious?
Did you eat so much crap during December that you’ll lose weight just by default after the holidays?
Is January magic?

No. It’s all just an excuse.

Because the new year is NEW, we give ourselves an “excuse” to start something new.  Then sometime next week, we’ll find a new excuse to stop.

You can use this part of human nature to become a better teacher, a better public speaker, and take your presentation skills to the next level.

Excuses matter

board-1848717_1920_noJust because I call it an “excuse,” that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Find an “excuse” to do something good. Find an excuse to smile. Find an excuse to donate money. Find an excuse to take a nap. I promise, the “excuse” will make it easier for you to succeed.

A few weeks ago, my teenage daughter needed to explain to her teacher why something was not done the “way he (the teacher) wanted.” I was not willing to do “what he wanted” and my daughter was uncomfortable talking to her teacher or even letting her peers see that she didn’t conform.

I solved the dilemma with one sentence.  “Tell him you’re dad told you to do it that way.” By giving my daughter an “excuse”–to blame it on her dad–it became much easier for her to act.

Whether  you are public speaking to a group, or talking to someone one-on-one, understanding the human need for justification will make you a more persuasive communicator.

The psychological principle at work is simple. We humans must be able to “excuse” our actions, and until we find an acceptable justification, we don’t act.

When someone asks you why you’re turning down a piece of double-chunk chocolate decadence, in January it’s easy to say “…because I made a new year’s resolution to lose weight” — and you know everyone will accept that excuse.

When someone asks you why you’re turning down a strawberry cream calorie-cake in April, it’s harder, because you need a NEW excuse–new year’s just won’t work anymore. You can’t blame it on new years, you have to actually take the responsibility yourself.

In other words, people need “justification” to act (or not), and if you provide a ready made “excuse,” they are more likely to do what you want.

Hostile Audiences Need an Excuse

600px-gnome-face-angry-svgAs you know, one of the most fundamental principles of negotiation is that the other person must walking away feeling like they win. A win-win negotiation is more effective than win-lose.

If you want to persuade others, or even just keep them attentive, you therefore have to give them that “excuse” that let’s them rationalize and justify how they won.

How would your public speaking skills fare in a hostile audience? You’ve been asked to deliver the bad news to a crowd of customers, or clients, or competition — and they hate your guts! No matter what you say, they will argue and contradict–if they even listen at all.

Let’s be honest, in a hostile public speaking situation, you have very little chance of converting the majority to your way of thinking. BUT, you might be able to nudge one or two listeners in the right direction.

And if you want any hope of influencing that ONE, then you have to give that ONE, something NEW! No one will change their mind without new information that they can blame for changing their mind!

You have to give an excuse. You have to give that one person, a justification that allows them to explain why they changed their mind.

Without that excuse you’ll influence no one. With that excuse you at least have a fighting chance of affecting someone.

A master presenter or public speaker will give the audience a way to save face: a pretext, a rationalization, justification, a cover–an excuse.

Friendly Audiences Need an Excuse

gnome-face-kiss-svgNow imagine your presentation skills are matched to a friendly audience.

You’re trying to sell your product to a person that already wants it, OR you’re delivering a million dollar check to the lottery winner, OR you’re preaching to the I-get-paid-to-be-hear-so-I-have-to-smile-and-listen choir.

The choir still needs an excuse to shout “amen!”

The buyer still has to excuse the purchase to his or her spouse / boss / mother-in-law.

The happy lottery winner still needs an excuse to believe its real, and not doubt you’re sincerity.

The Listener’s (Buyer’s) Perspective

I was shopping online for a new stove last week. It took me an hour to decide between two different models and click the “Pay now” button. Why did it take me so long to commit?


I was going to buy a new stove one way or another, all I needed was a good excuse to buy the more expensive one–and I couldn’t find it!

All they had to say on the web page was:

“This model is newer and less likely to break on you.”
“This model is more compact and will fit in your space better.”
“This model eliminates gray hair.”

Any excuse would do. The actual excuse isn’t important (or even necessarily true). What matters is that I psychologically need justification. And if the seller gave it to me, I would have bought the more expensive model much faster!

I don’t need a list of dozens of features that I have to read. That sounds like work. I only need ONE SINGLE excuse.

As a public speaker, your audience needs an excuse to listen, an excuse to agree, and an excuse to comply.

NEW Year’s Resolutions

Which brings us back to new years. The reason we motivate ourselves so much better this time of year is because we have a fall-back excuse. This time of year is NEW: new budget, new toys, new resolutions.

That is the secret!

You don’t have to think of a whiz-bang stop-em-dead excuse. All you have to do is give them something NEW!

Most presenters, salespeople, and wanna-be persuaders make the mistake of presenting all their “reasons” up front. How many presentations have you seen with a slide titled “Features.” Without exception, that title is followed by a long bulleted list of “features.”

Gag, gag, gag, gag, gag!

Psychologically, when you present a group of features as one list, that group of features is seen as ONE reason to act. Every listener will either decide based on that ONE list whether or not the “features” justify action or not.

All you have to do is split those features up into multiple individual reasons to act. Even better, save ONE piece of information for later.

In my SpeechDeck public speaking techniques product, this is called “Empowering the Individual” with “Ownership.”

If you save just one feature to be presented later, you’ll vastly increase your chance at persuasion.

Once the listener has that NEW information later on, it instantly gives the hostile listener an excuse to change his or her mind, and it gives the friendly listener an excuse to push them off the fence.

The reason they double your order absolutely free, interrupt the infomercial for late breaking information, drop the price at the last minute, and throw in a free wham-wow, bacteria-resistant, oversize, eco-friendly, non-abrasive, “miracle (polyester) cloth”–is because excuses work.

cast_iron_wood_stoveEvery time they provide NEW information, you subconsciously give yourself permission to reevaluate your decision, and they give you just the excuse to save face …

” … oh honey baby dearest love … but, but, but … this stove comes with SIX FREE steak knives!”

I wish you the best on your new year’s resolution excuses.

Quick Tip: Avoid “Absent-minded” Presentations

Let me give you one simple rule that will make your presentations more engaging and more persuasive at the same time.

Most public speakers are very “absent-minded.” I don’t mean that typical presenters are “absentminded,” in the sense that they forget things.  I mean that most speakers talk about people who are “absent.” They use words that put people’s minds on groups and individuals that aren’t in the room. Continue reading Quick Tip: Avoid “Absent-minded” Presentations

Convince Yourself

Who is your nemesis? Who or what gets under your skin and pushes your buttons?

Stop now! Actually stop and imagine your nemesis!

If you want someone to agree with you, don’t waste time trying to convince them you are right. Let them convince themselves–of what you want.

To defeat your nemesis, you have 2 superpowers:

  1. Be really specific (we’ll talk about this another day)
  2. Be really vague

questionmarkThe Superpower

Introducing Captain Ambiguity.

Think of a simple syllogism (logical argument) about my appearance:

  1. People who eat too much are fat.
  2. I eat too much!
  3. ???

What do I look like?

It doesn’t take a doctoral degree in logic for you to fill in the blank. Even though I never told you I am fat, I know that you didn’t picture me skinny.

Captain Ambiguity knows how to NOT say the very thing you are supposed to think. Whether or not I was fat or skinny in the beginning was ambiguous. Captain ambiguous never tells you what to think, Captain Ambiguous lets you come us with it on your own.

A syllogism is a conscious, logical way to do it, but it’s much more fun to use the subconscious way …

The Power of Ambiguity

SuperheroRemember your nemesis? Remember what gets under your skin and makes you want to explode?

What if you could turn the tables? Imagine how great it would feel if your nemesis were gone! Imagine if your nemesis could not resist your power!

Now I sell you something … (my product is SpeechDeck).

This isn’t actually a sales letter, it’s a communication lesson. Notice the ambiguity!

All I did was ask you about your nemesis. I let you fill in the blank. Your nemesis might be related to a sports competition, an insulting coworker, a manipulative family member, a bad habit, or a personal weakness. I don’t know.

Especially in large groups, most speakers make the mistake of giving only one of those SPECIFIC examples.

I could have asked you about the most annoying person at work, but that’s too specific. Not everybody reading has an enemy at work.

I could have asked about you greatest sports challenge, but that would turn off everyone in the audience who doesn’t participate in sports.

Instead, Captain Ambiguous replaces specific examples with ambiguity.

The Power of Metaphor

The ambiguity can be emotions, values, or subjective expressions, but if you can think symbolically, metaphors are the most powerful. Replacing specifics with metaphors abstracts your language so that it actually becomes more personal to the listener.

Your “nemesis” could mean anything (sports, business, dialog, family, etc).

Gets “under your skin” could mean anything (physical, emotional, etc.)

You want to “explode” could mean anything (physical, verbal, emotional, etc.)

Metaphors are ambiguous, yet they feel personal to the listener.

Instead of picturing some random image that the speaker forces, every listener pictures a “nemesis” that is completely different, yet so personal that it feels almost psychic.  Any conclusions drawn by the listener come from within. Listeners feels like they are persuading themselves.

Case Study

Almost every politician knows this trick. I should have added it to last weeks post about how Donald Trump manipulates people (You are being manipulated, pt 2). I left it out because even most bad politicians know this trick.

Every politician on earth talks about the “american dream.” Why do they do that? Because it’s ambiguous. Nevertheless, you can picture something very specific about your “dream.”

obamahopeThe only reason Trump does it better is because he’s using less cliche phrases “We will win.”

Notice the ambiguity of the word “win.” What does that actually mean? It will be completely different for everybody.

Obama used “Hope and change.” Notice he never actually explains the specifics about the “hope” or the “change.” He lets us fill in the blank. We “hope” for the “change” we personally want, and it feels like Obama agrees with us, even though he never specifically says that.

Captain Ambiguous to the Rescue

When replacing specifics with ambiguous metaphors, the only rule is that you replace something that does not apply to everybody with something that does.

If your example doesn’t relate to 100% of your listeners, try replacing it with ambiguity.

That means you can replace details with emotions or values. Not everyone can relate to “winning the state championship,” but everybody can relate to “feeling like you conquered (emotion) your nemesis.” Not everybody can relate to “losing the battle to cancer” but everybody can relate to “striving to do your best in ‘tough times'” (value/motivation).

You can’t sell me something directly unless you happened to know my exact problem. You can, however, sell me the superpower that vanquishes my “nemesis”–even if you don’t know what/who my nemesis is!

In my Speechdeck communication skills system, this technique is filed under the principle of “Empower the Individual.”

As long as I think you’re talking about the very specific nemesis I am picturing in my mind, I sell myself.