“We have found that the most effective
persuaders use language in a particular way. They supplement numerical data
with examples, stories, metaphors, and analogies to make their positions come
alive. That use of language paints a vivid word picture and, in doing so, lends
a compelling and tangible quality to the persuader’s point of view.” –
Jay Conger


It would be easy to focus on the details of Conger’s observation
and miss the more interesting message. His emphasis on examples, stories,
metaphors, and analogies indeed paints a vivid word picture and thus draws
attention away from the compelling and tangible quality of the persuader’s
point which is to persuade, compellingly. The goal is to make people adopt a
certain position, belief, or course of action. Sure, you are twisting
somebody’s arm. Were that not the plan, they wouldn’t need persuaded. William
Bernbach had this take on persuasive arm twisting, “The truth isn’t the truth
until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what
your saying, and they can’t know what you’ve saying if they don’t listen to
you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be
interesting until you say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.” No one is
going to buy your snake oil, no matter how fine it is, no matter how good it is
at curing everything, until you show them the truth, until they are persuaded.


There is an old Chinese Proverb that says, “The tongue can paint
what the eye can’t see;” and no less an authority than St Thomas Aquinas
advised, to convert somebody go and take them by the hand and guide them.” Even
Epicurus had a little guidance on pitching snake oil, although he likely smiled
as he disguised it as philosophy, “Human nature is not to be coerced but
persuaded and we shall persuade her by satisfying the necessary desires if they
are not going to be injurious but, if they are going to injure, by relentlessly
banning them.” The actual pitch might have gone like this, “My friends, this
genuine snake oil satisfies your most important and necessary desires to
relentlessly ban potentially injurious demons from your lives, nigh, from the
world as you know it.” Now do you need some of that or what?


Benjamin Franklin identified the cardinal element in persuasion,
“Would you persuade, speak of interest, not of reason.” Marcus T Cicero went Franklin one better,
“Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable;” and Joseph
Conrad agreed, “He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right
argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater
than the power of sense.”


There are just a few additional techniques you will need to
round out your bag of persuasive tricks. Dale Carnegie suggested adding, “There
is only one way to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other
person want to do it.” How do you do that? Know that, according to Eric Hoffer,
“The real persuaders are our appetites, our fears and above all our vanity. The
skillful propagandist stirs and coaches these internal persuaders.” Lord
Chesterfield offered this tidbit, “He makes people pleased with him by making
them first pleased with themselves;” but Ralph Waldo Emerson gave this caution,
“That which we do not believe, we cannot adequately say; even though we may
repeat the words ever so often.” It might be tempting to conclude that only
those who passionately believe can passionately persuade; but there is still a
lingering caveat. Don’t ever underestimate the power of the dedicated snake oil
huckster to persuade.