PERSUADE ON YOUR TERMS
down” is a commonplace word, heavily laden with emo-
tion; he swaps it for jargonistic terms that don’t show
up in any commonplace. They have almost no emo-
tional effect. While we might object to his new terms,
his dislike of “meltdown” is understandable. The term
is burdened with so much connotative baggage that
Burns feels compelled to swap it out. The words
“chemicals” and “logging” have a similar negative con-
notation—unfairly in many cases. Where would we be
without chemicals and wood? Yet you would have a
hard time redefining either of these words for just
about any audience except chemists and loggers.
Your job as a persuader is to find the common-
place words that appeal most to your audience—or if
you’re on the attack, repel them. Politicians use focus
groups to test terms like “reform” and “protection,”
which resonate with American voters—for now. Attach
“reform” to enough pork legislation, though, and poli-
ticians may find themselves stuck with a negative com-
I’m trying to make
my own issue, rhet-
oric, appeal to as
broad an audience
as possible. So when
I talk about “defin-
ing” and “labeling”—
terms that carry
baggage for many
size defense over
offense. Notice how
I use spare, oh-by-
when I refer to
attacking with com-
The technical name
for this technique
of skipping over an
awkward subject is
of the more manipu-
monplace word. You don’t need focus groups to deal with smaller audiences.
Just listen to the expressions people use, and spot the key persuasive words.
We need to be more
Welcome to the
I like him. He has a good
We need to change the
to her way of working.
Chalk it up to a
in his last job.
All of the italicized words reflect certain attitudes and come with vary-
ing emotional charges—all positive except for the last one. Don’t call your
if you hear the word “aggressive” repeatedly. Call it
Refer to your plan as a
changes the paradigm.
course, you don’t have to speak like a cliché-programmed humanoid. I
exaggerate for effect. Just remember to spot the key words and use them
to define the issue.