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:
- Be really specific (we’ll talk about this another day)
- Be really vague
Introducing Captain Ambiguity.
Think of a simple syllogism (logical argument) about my appearance:
- People who eat too much are fat.
- I eat too much!
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
Remember 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.
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.”
The 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.