Booklet: Messages that Work

Messages that Work

If you don't connect with the reader, your message doesn't have a chance.

The connection.

PACING Getting attention
Matching behavior
Paces to avoid
Forms of pacing
Expressing your view
LEADING Shaping your suggestions
Deceit or good communication?
The words
Open suggestions
A bit of irony
Additional Reading

Face it, if you don't connect with the reader right off the bat, your message doesn't have a chance. Too many other projects are clamoring for attention. You must grab the person's attention and make your case. Slam, bam. To not connect is to be put aside. Forever.

The good news is that when your message does connect, it has a reasonable chance of success. The sea of ordinary sales pitches makes a customer oriented message stand out -- it's so unusual, people are willing to listen.

In these competitive times, however, connecting is not automatic. People are suspicious -- they've been hit with too much advertising and hype. Years ago, a well organized product report would have been read and given due consideration. That's no longer the case. Old style presentations are not enough. To break through today's sense of impatience and cynicism, the latest linguistic and suggestion techniques must be brought into play.

The linguistic techniques described here offer step-by-step procedures for catching attention and presenting your case in a way that gets a reply. They're simple; anyone can use them. These sections describe how to construct messages using attention, connection, and wording techniques.


The connection.

A well constructed message lets the readers know their concerns are understood. It tells them you are on the same wavelength.

Poorly constructed messages, on the other hand, rub people the wrong way. Something about the message grates. Again, it has to with the connection. Without a connection to the reader, messages are easily too self-serving, too pushy.


Cheapest house paint available...

Getting wealthy is easy...

Trust me. The car's body is a little rough, but the frame is perfectly straight. Guaranteed.

Each of the above messages generates feelings of distrust. There is no connection, no rapport with the reader. It would be difficult to give serious consideration to any presentation following those introductions.

To be "not well received" is serious. It means the goals of your presentation are doomed to fail -- you're wasting your time. To fully comprehend the impact of not connecting, it helps to consider what it's like to have no influence.

The worst connection exists when you are so far away that you are not able to hear, see, or otherwise communicate with the other person. Go to the building next door and see how much influence you have over your friend in the other building. None. You have no way to get that person to look to his/her left. You have no influence, zero, none. You are simply not there. It doesn't take long to realize that without a connection your most persuasive arguments are worthless, even to those who would otherwise follow your suggestions. For messages to exert any influence, there must be a connection.

Effective messages follow two principles: they use pacing to connect with the reader, and they use the right words to shape the suggestions.

Most likely, there have been times when you've felt especially connected to someone. It might have been in a team sport where your timing was in-sync with another player. He or she knew how you were going to respond, and you seemed to anticipate their every move. Or, it might have been with a special dance partner during your favorite song. Your steps glided and flowed from one to the next. Or, a connection might have developed after sharing a high risk situation. Military personnel, fire fighters, and rescue teams often speak of their strong connection to each other.

Although not as strong, everyday events also create connections.

For example:

Standing in a checkout line with you, a stranger comments, "You'd think they'd have a better system than this." Your reply of, "I hear ya..." completes the connection. At that moment you have a bond of shared experience, of being on the same wavelength.

Sometimes the ability to connect is elusive and no matter how hard you try, you never connect. It's not just the words: one day you say exactly the same thing, but the next day you get a nasty stare back. It's not just being friendly, for when things aren't working, being friendly seems to make the other person grumpier. If it's not the gesture of being friendly, what is it?


Real connection is rooted in a concept called pacing. Good pacing involves meeting someone in a way that makes you the same person. Most people listen to themselves -- that's the natural source of all decisions. Although it's not possible to be that person exactly, the closer you can come to being in-sync with them, the closer your relationship will be.

A general example might be useful before looking at specifics.

Pacing example:

Ed and Sally knew each other casually. One day Sally was walking uptown at a steady pace. Ed noticed her up ahead when he was about 100 feet back. He thought this was a good opportunity for a "pacing" experiment. Maintaining the 100 foot distance, Ed sped up and slowed down, and it had no effect on Sally's speed.

Changing speeds at 100 feet back felt a little silly, since she hadn't even seen him yet. Obviously, this wasn't having any effect on Sally. Next, Ed then picked up his speed and walked past Sally, saying hello as he passed. Sally looked up and returned the greeting as Ed pulled away. Her pace stayed about the same.

Continuing with the experiment, Ed stopped and waited for Sally to catch up. He matched her speed and started a conversation about the weather. After going half a block at Sally's pace, Ed slowed down very slightly. Sally also slowed, matching his speed. He slowed more, and she followed. The conversation continued. Next, Ed increased his speed slightly, and again, and again. Each time Sally matched his speed.

Several elements surfaced in this example:

1. Getting a person's attention is essential. As Ed walked unnoticed behind Sally, there was no chance of exerting any influence.

2. Matching the person's behavior increases the chance for connection. When Ed matched Sally's speed and walked alongside, a simple connection was established.

3. Ignoring the other person's action and following your own rhythm does not further a personal connection. As Ed walked by at his own speed, he had little chance of influencing Sally -- there was no connection.

4. As Ed and Sally talked, other pacing activities were taking place. They each spoke in the same tone of voice, with the same gestures, and with approximately the same perspective on the weather.

Getting attention.

Having someone physically next to you commands their attention. Their shoulder bumping into your arm can't be ignored. Their gestures, glances, and expressions all have a direct impact.

Unfortunately, initial business contacts seldom involve face-to-face interaction. More likely, the contact is through a letter, an e-mail, or an advertisement. A quick glance at the material determines whether you'll have a chance for a reasonable pace. The first key is to catch the person's attention.

In the print media, an attractive picture of your product has the best chance for catching attention. If the potential customer has a need for the item, they will pause to read the headlines and give you a chance to connect. If the media is e-mail, the subject line must convey enough product info to stir the customer's interests. Generalities, especially with vague promises, will get the message deleted. With only a couple of words, your best shot is to give the product's function and hope you strike a need.

Matching behavior.

The simplest way to sync with someone is to respond in a similar physical manner. If one is sitting up straight, you should also. If someone is lethargic, you should slow down. Even matching breathing rates is a way to match physical levels. When physical patterns begin to synchronize, those involved start to sync.

As with getting attention, it's rare that you'll have the opportunity to physically pace someone. You need to pace them remotely.

Let's say you're sending a promotional e-mail message to a particular group. You'd like to pace them, but since they're not present, you don't have the usual cues to work from. What do you know about their physical situation? You can guess:

They are probably sitting.

They are looking at a monitor.

They are reading your message.

You can also guess about their mental state:

They are in a hurry.

They have some interest in your product (otherwise they would not have continued reading).

They would like more free time.

These assumptions provide the basis for your remote pacing. Remember, a remote pace reflects back a statement of their current situation. It demonstrates you are in-sync with the readers. For example:

As you're reading this, consider...

You don't have much time, so I'll be brief...

The more information you have, the better the pace can be. The fact that they were initially intrigued by your product becomes particularly helpful -- your product can be built into the pace statement. For example:

If you're concerned about your pet's nutrition...

If those color bands irritate you...

If you feel your insurance company is taking you to the cleaners...

The interest in your product connects your message to the customer. The barriers to listening come down. Your message now stands a chance of being heard.

Paces to avoid.

Unfortunately, some attempts to attract customers have been overused. Not only do customers not believe the messages, they view them with contempt. Theoretically, there is nothing wrong with these connection attempts, they've just been misused. If your paces are not attracting customers, review your pace message to ensure you haven't stumbled into an overused area.

Examples of overused paces:

Need extra money?

Looking for the best car deal?

Want to be financially secure with just two hours a week effort?

Want to be independent?

In fact, entire product/services areas have been overused to the extent that selling these services is going to be difficult. The market is saturated. If, however, you are determined to offer a product in a saturated industry, you may want tie it to a product/service that's in greater demand.

Forms of pacing.

Pacing happens on several levels and doesn't stop after the initial pace message. Customers continue to connect with messages that are honest, to the point, and demonstrate an understanding for their concerns. These are all mini-paces.

These multi-level subtleties are difficult to predict or plan -- the easiest way to pace a wide range of connections is to place yourself in the other person's frame of mind. What are their hopes and irritations? To ensure you're on the right track, ask for feedback. Listen to the responses. Watch your own attitude. If you don't start understanding your customers, you need to work harder at seeing their point of view. If you're saying, "What's wrong with them?" you're probably on the wrong track.


I can understand how you're tired of hearing...

Designing the initial screen must have been difficult.

Put yourself in their shoes and express that view as clearly as possible.

The urge to express your own view.

For some, pacing and trying to understand the other person is a new experience. In the past, when they had something to say, they'd just get it out. Pacing goes against their style. Many hold that's the way they are: up-front and straightforward. With a strong believe in their convictions, they feel their ideas should survive on their own merit.

In a perfect world, those with a blunt style might have a better chance. In fact, they still do well in face-to-face situations, many times because their approach is seen as refreshing or entertaining. However, patience for the in-your-face style quickly drops when the subject is on sensitive ground or they are requesting a special effort from the other person.

For example, if Ed's first comment to Sally was: "I was walking behind you and thought you'd look a lot better if you could drop about 60 pounds," chances are there would not have been much of an interaction. If his larger goal was to develop a deeper relationship, this up-front style would not help. Even if Ed felt compelled to make the point, he could have waited until a reasonable connection was made.

In remote communication with e-mail or computer display messages, self-centered perspectives don't get very far. The charm of an in-your-face confrontation just doesn't come across well.

It's not as if you need to withhold your opinions and positions; it's a matter of laying the groundwork so that your views can receive sincere consideration.

Your suggestions

Shaping Your Suggestions

Once you have the reader's attention and have made a connection, it's time to present your proposition. This means building an effective suggestion.

Your suggestion's wording affects how well they are received. With the proper structure, suggestions have a better chance of being considered thoughtfully.

Deceit or good communication?

The question arises, "Isn't it being dishonest to use these techniques for getting others to accept my suggestions? I'm not saying what's on my mind. It doesn't seem honest." Good question.

If your intent is to deceive, you are being dishonest. If your intent is to get your message across as best you can, it's good communication. As is the case for most right or wrong issues, the answer lies in the heart of the person using the technique, not in the technique.

The ability to communicate is fundamental. It can change your life. It can make the difference between having a good cause take off, or having it terminated; it can make the difference between a relationship growing over a lifetime, or having it broken off; it can make your sons and daughters close and caring, or distant. The import of being able to convey your ideas to someone else is massive.

Even if you are pure of heart, you run the risk of using these suggestion techniques for your personal ends. Eventually, this manipulation has the potential to taint your relationships. One safeguard against overusing these skills involves stating your intent up front, before you shift into your persuasive processes. This allows the other person to balance your influence with the fact that you have a desired outcome. The level of interaction will shift away from manipulation to genuine one-to-one communication.


Mother: "Give me three minutes to talk you out of going out in public with your hair that way." ... Daughter: "Your argument was a good, but I want to go like this anyway."

"I like your idea. Let me take a crack at trying to find the holes in it."

"Before going into the different options, I want to make it clear that I will be asking for support."

Remote message examples:

"You've heard these points before, but this time..."

"At the end of this note I'm going to ask you to invest $5, but until then consider these issues..."

"Up front, let me warn you that I'm selling a product. I believe in its value so strongly, however, that I ask you read the next two paragraphs."

Since everyone knows you're pitching something anyway, you are pacing to their sense of honesty.

The words.

In face-to-face encounters the words you use are important, but their meaning can be overshadowed by your gestures or by your inflection. The comment, "Nice hat," can said as a cheerful compliment, or as a sarcastic sneer. The words are secondary to how they are said.

In written contexts, however, the words become more critical. Without guidance from your verbal cues and body language, the mind only has the words to interpret. The words themselves begin to dominate. With our extensive use of negatives meanings can get twisted around.

For example, the note: "Don't go" introduces the word GO. The mind can easily overlook the DON'T and focus on GO. It would have been better to write: "Please stay."

An exaggerated example illustrates this further:

Don't even think about having another piece of chocolate, certainly not one with the creamy, mocha flavored center. The cherry fillings are off limits, as well as those big crunchy peanut clusters. And forget those dark chocolate mints. Don't even think about having one more piece.

The message says don't, but the words are enticing.


Don't delay...

Reduces downtime...

Eliminates bad breath...

You requests will not be ignored...

This won't require a great deal of effort...

These are the wrong words to convey the intended idea. A translation to intended action rectifies the situation.

Don't delay... ---> Act quickly...

Reduces downtime... ---> Keeps the system up...

Eliminates bad breath... ---> Leaves your breath fresh...

You requests will not be ignored... ---> Your requests will receive immediate attention.

This won't require a great deal of effort... ---> It's simple.

Using the optimum wording may seem subtle, but when someone skims a message, you don't have much time to make your point. You need everything working in your favor. Using the most effective words improves the chance that the right message comes across.

Using the right words is simple. Understand what you want to convey, find the most straight forward words and use them. Double check your wording. If the words themselves conjure up a image that is not what you wish to say, find a better set of words.

Some people counter, "But my style is to tell it like it is. I like to say what's on my mind and not sugar coat anything." Finding the right words is not sugar coating. It's cleaning up bad communication habits and saying things effectively.

Open suggestions.

Open suggestions present a mix of options and actions, but they do not dictate which option to take. They are most effective when the reader has a hidden resistance to either your product or simply being told what to do.

Although it sounds strange, even well adjusted adults acquire a mix of resentments and grudges in the course of normal living. It might be their boss was unusually demanding, or a co-worker was short-tempered, or a sales clerk was condescending. At a time when individuals want to follow their own lead, they're pushed around by someone else. Whatever the cause, tensions and attitudes build.

In a completely fair world, the irritation of being pushed around shouldn't carry over into other situations, but they do. Tony was a jerk all morning, and as a result, you have less patience with Sue in the afternoon. It isn't fair, but it happens.

The net result is that almost everyone has leftover resentment over being bossed around unjustly. Being ordered about grates. It has nothing to do with the validity of the instruction; it's the result of being pushed around for years.

Thus, if you offer options instead of orders, your choices will be easier for people to accept. In fact, today's self-service orientation makes it possible to guide customers through the order process without rigid instructions.

It might help to examine several direct instructions.


Fill out the following form today.

Select your size and return to:

Return the e-mail with your order.

If you are interested in ordering the item, these instructions seem quite normal. They offer a clear path for obtaining the product you're looking for. Even without an intent to order someone about, these instructions seem normal. There is nothing in these messages to be offended about, regardless of how bad your day was to that point.

However, it's not necessary for the message to be blatantly offensive to have a negative effect. When readers consider a promotional message, they are in a hair trigger state. Most likely they are on the verge of tossing your message or hitting the delete key. At that exact moment a direct instruction is a bit abrasive, a shade pushy. At the moment buyers are making the purchase decision, you don't want to put them into a position where they have the urge to resist.

As an alternative, if you outlined the choices and let the next action take care of itself, you would be better off. Of course the buyer knows the order form is for selecting merchandise. Of course they have to send it in. Let the moment take care of itself.

Directions can be translated into options.


"Fill out the following form today." ---> "You can mail in the form or call our 800 number."

"Select your size and return to:" ---> "Your size options are listed below."

"Return the e-mail with your order." ---> "Simply returning this e-mail with the subject 'order' will set your order in motion."

The principle of open suggestions leads to several guidelines:

1. Offer options, not directions.

2. State how things will unfold based on their action.

3. When you present the order form, stop selling and let the buyers clarify their own motivation. (In some ways this is an internal pace.)

Remember, remote communication hangs on by a fine thread. The difference between someone tossing your message and acting on it is determined by nuances. Using the best wording and open suggestions are easy enough to implement and can make a difference.

A bit of irony.

It's ironic that the sleaziest sales people like the concept of pacing. They seem naturally attracted by its potential for getting that extra hook into a customer.

The twist comes when they put pacing into practice. Since pacing requires understanding the other person's situation, the pacer is forced to see thing from the buyer's eyes. With all this listening and understanding, a certain compassion develops. Unwittingly, even hard core sales people find themselves led into insightful, sincere exchanges. Ironic indeed.

In terms of sales and customer dynamics, everyone comes out happy.


Strangely enough, closing the sale during a remote presentation is easier than a face-to- face encounter, mostly because extended sales pitches can't get in the way. In traditional settings, many customers would be happy to complete the sale in the first five minutes of a presentation, but they aren't given the chance. They know the product; they know if they can afford it, but they feel obligated to sit through the presentation during which a variety of issues can arise to nix the deal.

Granted, it's not always the sales person's problem. Sometimes a customer is intent on exacting every drop of blood possible from the sales representative and prolongs the presentation endlessly.

In a remote presentation, both scenarios are removed. The customer is free to make an early commitment, and the urge to torture the sales person is gone. Sales can be closed quickly. It becomes a matter of having the ordering information accessible.

For computer presentations, order forms should have an order button on every screen. Whenever the urge hits, whenever the decision comes, the sale can be closed. For mail forms, it means having the price and ordering instructions visible at all times.

Forget inserting a summary pushing the product. It will only come across as another sales pitch. Put the order box in a visible place and be still. Let the silence and the strength of your message do the work.

Additional Reading

Trance-Formations: Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Structure of Hypnosis by John Grinder, Richard Bandler. Real People Press, 1981.
** These guys are the master of suggestion. Get all their books.

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