Curb their enthusiasm – kicked out of a free preview

I like to attend free previews for various seminars (forex trading, get-rich-quick trading options, start your own internet business, time-share offers, etc.). It’s like working in a laboratory for me – I get to see what techniques the persuaders behind these programs are using.

My wife recently told me I would be accompanying her to what seemed like a time-share pitch, though the promoter insisted it was not a time-share. The promoter was offering an expense paid trip for two to various Asian destinations, including airfare on an undesignated carrier and accommodations, plus a tablet PC of dubious origins. All we had to do to collect was show up at their offices and listen for ninety minutes. The rationale was simple: instead of spending huge sums of money on newspaper ads that might not generate much interest, the company chose to spend it on gifts to bring in prospects from a carefully chosen market segment. I suspect the real reason was that such extravagant (though not necessarily expensive) gifts would create a strong sense of obligation in the recipients.

We showed up at their offices in a large bank building. The paint on the walls looked fresh, though I could not actually smell it. I reminded myself that anyone could rent space in an impressive building, put up a sign, and look like a respectable business. A pretty young woman in a sexy black dress brought us to a small round table in a large room full of other round tables and couples chatting with pretty women in sexy black dresses. She began to soften us up with small talk. The other couples were chatting and laughing comfortably. We were sitting there guardedly, and I was still trying to detect the odor of fresh paint.

A short time later the ‘man in the suit’ relieved the young beauty. “I can see you’re not comfortable here,” he said to us. “I’m just wondering what this is all about,” I replied. “No, you really don’t want to be here,” he insisted. “That’s fine, we’ll organize your gift, but I know you’d rather be doing something else this afternoon, so we won’t keep you here.” I really did want to see how this seeming time-share pitch was not about time-shares, and what other smooth moves they had planned for us, but the suit was adamant. He wanted us out.

My wife thought he was afraid I might ask some pointed questions. I don’t believe that was it. Surely he was prepared for any objection I might raise. (In fact, I had no intention of asking any questions, I was there to observe.) No, he was afraid that my skeptical demeanor would infect the atmosphere of the room and diminish the enthusiasm of the other couples. I think he made the right move, though I would have loved to see their pitch.

A carefully designed pitch contains many elements of persuasion. You must manage them carefully. Aside from the free gift to create an obligation to reciprocate, the friendly approach to tap into the likeability factor, the impressive signage and surroundings, and so on, our friend the suit was attentive to our body language, the interpersonal dynamics, and the mood of the room.

Persuasion is more about guidelines than rules. Guidelines require you to exercise judgment. Observe, consider, experiment – there is always more to learn.


American Gladiators

I caught a bit of “American Gladiators” on TV the other day. This show features ordinary people going up against physically hyper-developed competitors with names like Wolf and Crush in various feats of strength, agility, endurance, and sheer determination.

When Wolf struts into the arena he howls, flexes his muscles, and looks menacing, much like a character from the ‘professional’ wrestling circuit. In fact, the host of the show is former wrestler Hulk Hogan. These people are over the top. The referee also shouts like a drill sergeant, makes exaggerated hand gestures, and uses lots of body English just to ask the contenders if they are ready. Even the John and Jane Does who take on the gladiators are loud, animated, and full of swagger.

Contestants on other shows such as “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” and most ‘reality’ TV shows are also loud, expressive, and overly animated. They look like ordinary people, but they don’t act like ordinary people. Is it just because they are on TV?

In the 1960s-70s we had Walter Cronkite read the news in a straight-laced manner and Ed Sullivan introduce entertainers in a deadpan manner. Contestants on TV shows looked and acted like ordinary people. The exception was “Let’s Make a Deal,” where ordinary people dressed up in costumes and held up signs to get Monty Hall’s attention.

Over the years, the bar has been raised continuously. Newscasters are becoming more in-your-face, radio deejays have become shock jocks, and the man and woman in the street are amping up their communication style to stand out. They want to be noticed, even if Monty Hall is not there to offer them a deal.

What does this mean for the future of communication? Has the pendulum swung to the extreme before settling back to a more moderate position? I don’t think so. TV has been shaping our reality for generations, and will continue to do so. People will continue to talk louder, become more opinionated, swagger, gesticulate, and fight harder to be heard.

How will you compete for attention? Will you try to be louder than the mob? Or will you find some other way to differentiate yourself and get your message across?