Love him or hate him, Ol’ Donald J. was able to convince more than 62,000,000 people to trust him with their lives. Twice!
I’m going to show you exactly how he did it, without getting bogged down with cute ideals like “morality” or “justice.” In all seriousness, though, while those are obviously important (far more important than power), persuasion is neutral, and it takes on the color of the person who wields it. In this case, um…orange.
But that’s neither here nor there. And by the way, this piece is decidedly NOT political. At all. Hell, I’m Canadian! I’m just up here observing this stuff from my igloo.
No, this is about helping you succeed as a content creator, and the spectacular news here is that you don’t need anywhere close to 63 million people supporting you to make it online. Not even close.
You may have already read Kevin Kelly’s massively influential essay 1,000 True Fans, where he makes the case that large followings aren’t at all necessary for you to succeed at building your thing. You pretty much just need 1,000 people whom you could call Superfans: people who tend to buy every single creation you release into the world. If you have 1,000 True Fans, and you release something each year (or several things) that cost $100 total, then that’s $100,000 a year in income. In Kelly’s words, that’s a living for most folks.
As an aside, 12 years after the internet maelstrom that his True Fans essay set off, Kelly has sat down in front of the camera and laid down “68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice” on the occasion of his 68th birthday.
It gets even better, too, when you look at how early we are into the age of the Internet. It can feel as though it’s been around forever, but we’re still in the Internet Gold Rush years!
According to Internet World Stats, as of 31st December, 2020, there were a little more than 5,000,000,000 Internet users worldwide. That’s a huge number of people, obviously, but if you look at the part of the graph in the bottom right, you’ll notice that that’s only 64.2% of the total world population!
We’re not even close to having everyone connected (sadly, in both senses of that term), but once we do — and it’s pretty much an inevitability by now — that’s an additional 3,000,000,000 people that will be coming online within the next few decades, maybe even sooner.
Over the next few years, the number of people that make up your potential audience may increase by almost a third. That means you have to get ready. You have to hone your persuasion skills if you want to capture some of that attention, and become the positive change those people are going to need and want in their lives.
And your 1,000 True Fans? That’s literally just 0.0000002% of the current Internet user base! Now is the time for you to rise. Now is the time to add your unique voice to the world discourse. Now is the time to start getting the personal and financial recognition for the good that you — and only you — can add to the world.
I’m never once in this post going to ask you to change your mind about Donald Trump — only to recognize that he’s incredibly persuasive. Maybe not to you personally, but nobody gets 130,000,000+ votes in two elections by being unpersuasive.
So we’re going to run through the precise tactics and strategies that Donald Trump himself employed with great success (focusing specifically on the 2016 election against Clinton) to become the leader of one of the most powerful countries on Earth.
If you want to tap into some of that weapons-grade persuasion power of his and bend the universe to your will, then read on. I’m about to share all his secrets…
The anatomy of persuasion
At its core, persuasiveness is about personality and tactics, both of which can be developed. There’s an element of calculated risk-taking involved as well, along with an understanding of empathy that can also be learned by anyone, but which is used to greatest effect by those who have carefully honed their intuitions over a long period of time. We’ll see how this describes Trump later on.
Basically, almost anyone can learn to be more persuasive, and, as we’ll get into, persuasion is effective even when people know that it’s being used against them. They can be conscious that someone is trying to influence them, and they’ll still go along with it because they can’t help it.
What’s needed, more than anything, is to get outside of ourselves and meet the other person where they are. You have to train yourself to see the interpersonal landscape through their eyes, and to see how you appear to them. This is much harder than it sounds, and it takes more than a lifetime to be able to do it perfectly, but it’s absolutely vital when it comes to persuasion.
We each see the world through a predetermined “filter” made up of our own beliefs, experiences, and intuitions about how the world works. That’s why two people can look at the exact same information and see wildly different things. Different beliefs, different filters. Scott Adams, the often wildly underestimated creator of the Dilbert comic strip, says that the test for whether a filter is a good one to use is to see whether it makes you happy, and can more or less accurately predict the future.
In the context of our discussion, we need to develop a “persuasion filter,” and look at whether what we say and do is persuasive, not whether it makes us happy, is completely correct, or is even ethical.
Like I said earlier, persuasion is neutral. It is amoral, rather than being Right or Wrong. It either works — moves minds — or it doesn’t. That’s the test for the persuasion filter. The following tactics are a few of the ways that Trump has been able to move minds and sway voters. Your ethics may vary.
Tactics and principles
Stack these tactics together and watch your persuasiveness take off like Air Force One. Some are subtle, others not so much, but they all work. Later on, we’ll look at some persuasion mistakes to avoid, and what doesn’t work. Here, however, we’ll start with something called “intentional wrongness.”
#1 — “Intentional wrongness” can be persuasive
When we say something that people jump on as being wrong or factually incorrect, they’re still talking about us. They’re playing right into our hands, in fact perpetuating our message by attacking it.
That’s why, when Trump makes claims that any high school newspaper fact-checker can disprove, and he’s found out, it might not actually be a mistake. It might be calculated to keep us talking about him.
He’ll say something wildly inaccurate about border security or immigrants, and we all jump down his throat for being wrong…but we’re still talking about his Wall. He’s still dominating the discussion and persuading.
#2 — Associations are extremely powerful in persuasion situations
Just mentioning my name, Matt Karamazov, along with someone like Elon Musk makes you link the two names together. Now, I have some of the very same qualities as Elon Musk, at least in your mind.
A simple Google search will tell you that I’ve started exactly zero space companies, I’ve never hosted SNL, and I don’t have 53 million Twitter followers, but here we are, being mentioned together, and your brain will attribute to me some of his best — and worst — qualities. This works both ways, so be careful.
#3 — We are more influenced by visual, emotional, repetitive, and simple messages than by details and facts
Facts matter, alternative or otherwise (what does that even mean!?), but its the repetition of those facts, and their visual and emotional components, that will deliver the most persuasive punch.
No one’s going to read your thesis paper on why animal cruelty is an abomination, but show them photos of cute baby animals that never deserved what happened to them and watch the donations roll in.
Symbols and images are incredibly important in any election, and you can bet that both sides took every opportunity to be photographed with the right people, and to drill down their message to their simplest form so they would stick in people’s memory. “MAGA” is a perfect example of this.
#4 — Appeal to more people by seeming to be one of them
Scott Adams makes sure that as many people as possible identify with his Dilbert character. Dilbert doesn’t have a last name, the company he works for isn’t named, the industry isn’t named, etc. If you work in an office, there’s nothing about the comic strip that people can look at and say “that’s not my office.” Therefore, he appeals to far more people.
Trump, and really every politician consciously exploits these effects when they try to convey their “everyman” status and appeal to the majority. Being a friend of “the workers,” is persuasive on a grander scale than if Trump were to declare his undying support for, I don’t know, chiropractors in California.
#5 — “Strategic ambiguity” is something you can cultivate so that it’s unclear to others where you fall on a certain issue
Even writing a book about Trump’s persuasion skills falls under this category. Scott Adams disavowed Trump for his racism, yet constantly sings his praises about his persuasion skills.
In the end, you’re never really sure how Adams actually feels about Trump, and this is to Adams’s advantage because by practicing strategic ambiguity he appeals to more people. You’re not sure whether he’s Pro-Trump or Anti-Trump, and you’re unable to claim that he’s biased.
Speaking for myself, I recognize — and celebrate — Trump’s basic humanity and feel that he’s worthy of dignity and unconditional love (in a cosmic sense lol) but I won’t for a second pretend to be a Trump supporter or a hater.
It’s just beyond the scope of this piece and really beside the point. I’m cultivating strategic ambiguity to get you to read an entire article that will dramatically improve your persuasion skills, and maybe end up reading some of my other work.
#6 — Ugly people have to be nice
Attractive people usually get a free pass. Or, at least attractive people can get away with things that less attractive people cannot. How many times have you seen someone (else, of course, not you!) do an attractive person a favor just because they were good looking?
Of course, it doesn’t work on you, but you see it happen all the time. If you’re physically attractive and you’re not flaunting it, you’re leaving lots of potential persuasion on the table. Trump’s not headed for the cover of Men’s Health any time soon, but he knows how to surround himself with strikingly beautiful people and he knows how persuasive that can be.
#7 — The biggest lever of persuasion is the visual aspect
Most people will not look past appearances, thereby making whatever they see the most persuasive thing. Essentially, you should show rather than simply tell. We covered this above in #3, but it’s such a critical factor in persuasion that it deserves its own slot here.
Once, in response to a reporter’s question that was designed to trap Trump, he turned the tables by coming back with an answer that had a large visual component. Specifically, he made people think about a situation where ISIS would take over the Vatican. That’s so visual that it’s almost surprising it’s not already a Gerard Butler movie!
#8 — Fear is exceptionally persuasive
Make people afraid of something and they’ll do almost anything you tell them to do — if you can make them think that you hold the answer to their being less afraid.
Fear can be even more persuasive if it’s (a) personal to you, (b) it’s something that you think about more often (focusing illusion), and (c)has a visual component. Fears you can see are far more persuasive than fears that remain invisible.
Look no further than insurance advertisements that show whole basements flooded with filthy water to show you how they use fear to their economic advantage. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting people to think about protecting their property against water damage, but no doubt you can think of more malevolent examples too.
#9 — Anchoring is when you throw out a higher number to make your real proposal seem much lower by comparison
Salespeople will often mark something down from $1,000 to $50 that they only wanted to sell for $50 in the first place. Trump will throw out a massive, stupidly high number for the cost to build a wall, when in reality, that was just an anchor to make his real design more palatable.
You can use this when asking for a raise. If you want a $3,000 a year raise, ask for $10,000 or more. Astonishingly, this even works when the higher number isn’t even related to what you are actually negotiating! Mentioning that there are potentially more than 2 trillion galaxies present in the observable universe will make your boss think that $10,000 isn’t that high a number after all!
As content creators, whenever you are offering a course or a product, set the price higher than what you actually think it’s worth. If you think that it would be fair to have someone pay $50 for an online course that you’ve created, put it up for $100 and then give people a $50 discount. There’s a reason why you see everyone doing this — it works. Even if you know it’s being used on you.
#10 — Hold meetings in the most impressive physical space you can control
Again, visual impressions matter, and Trump is a master of controlling the scene, hosting meetings in large boardrooms within expensive towers, and of course in the Oval Office as well.
Controlling this space gives him an incredible edge in persuasion, and so it’s worth it to think about ways you can adapt your meeting spaces to add as much weight to your message as possible. Inviting people to Trump Tower is far more persuasive (in your favor) than meeting them for a coffee at Starbucks.
Persuasion tactics that don’t work, and mistakes to avoid
Very briefly, I want to cover a few things that should not be a part of your persuasion strategy. Not because they’re unethical or anything, but simply because they don’t work! Or, at least they’re not nearly as persuasive as the tactics and principles we just covered.
Here are four ineffective tactics, and mistakes to avoid, briefly summarized:
#1 — “Word thinking” is one of the least persuasive elements you can play with
We’ve already discussed the insane power of visuals, but even worse than trying to tell rather than show is trying to change the meaning of a word once it’s gripped the public imagination.
You’re not going to be able to convince anyone that your definition of “fake news” means something different than what we’ve all come to agree that it means.
#2 — Associating yourself with, or spreading, negativity
Fear persuades, but negativity as such doesn’t. If you’re constantly reminding people about what’s wrong and horrible but don’t come out with any positive or constructive solutions, you’re just going to be seen as negative and people will begin to distance themselves from you. So, clearly, it’s a fine line.
This even goes for the little things like the weather and traffic. Be seen as someone who’s complaining and whining all the time and people will avoid you. Negativity is not persuasive.
#3 — Beware of associations that place you in a negative light, regardless of intent
Google’s old tagline, “Don’t Be Evil” was almost literally the worst tagline in existence because it associated their brand with evil. This was such a huge mistake! People won’t remember the “don’t” part; instead, they’ll just remember “Google” and “Evil,” even if it’s not entirely conscious.
#4 — “A good argument in five sentences is better than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences.”
I won’t elaborate on this; I’ll just say that short and concise beats brilliant and verbose. Keep it short: get in, persuade, get out.
With billions more people coming online in the next few years and decades, you as a content creator are perfectly poised to direct your own personal and financial future from this day forward.
It’s a massive network of opportunity out there, but you’re also going to be competing for eyeballs and wallets with a huge cohort of Internet professionals who have consciously applied themselves to become more persuasive, and to adapt their messaging to reflect that goal.
Competition creates champions, of course, and you really only have to be more persuasive than the next guy in order to corner your share of the online market and attract your 1,000 True Fans, but you have to start now. The Internet moves fast, and it’s adapt or atrophy. Grow, or go.
Ideally, you should start developing your persuasion skills before you actually need them. Personally, I’ve spent more than a decade as a nightclub bouncer, peacefully persuading people to leave the club, so I can say that this is a skill for life.
One time, at the club, I had some watermelon chunks that I was chowing down on at the front entrance while I was checking I.D. Now, I like to think of myself as a pretty generous guy, just like Elon Musk (see what I did there?) So, when this big jacked guy told me on his way in that he loves watermelon, I offered him some of mine without hesitation.
Jump ahead two hours to when his soldier buddy has gone apoplectic in the downstairs bathroom and we have to get him out.
First, we were in a fairly impressive space that I more or less controlled (tactic #10). My club, my home field advantage.
The enraged guy’s friend and I had pretty much bonded over the watermelon and so he and I belonged to the same group (tactic #4). I used strategic ambiguity by not coming down on either the side of “your friend is being a nuisance and I’m going to throw him out as hard as I can,” or, “that’s okay, your buddy can just do whatever he wants in here because you and I are friends now” (tactic #5).
You could say that I also used the principle of reciprocity, whereby when you do something nice for someone else, they often feel compelled to do something nice for you too, even if it’s not on the same scale (accepting a piece of watermelon, versus altering he and his friend’s entire evening plans).
Long story short, he and his friend leave peaceably, nobody gets hurt, I go back to persuading some girls to give me their phone numbers, and the night rolls on!
What’s more, that same guy came back, and now he’s always welcome! Turns out his name was Matt too, and he was leaving for deployment in Iraq soon. I haven’t seen him since, but I certainly hope he’s okay. He’s good people.
Anyway, you’re never going to regret learning how to become more persuasive, and these tips and tactics have been tried and tested by the best of the best — and the worst of the worst.
I hope you use them to attract your 1,000 True Fans, create an online business and a life that you love, and leave the Internet just a little better than you found it.
All the best,
P.S. Here’s a list of the 30 best business, psychology, and personal development books, and also where you can get a copy of my Top 20 Unconventional Reading Strategies for free. Just click here. Come onnn, do it! You know, we’re the same, you and I :)