The meaning we give to something depends on the context in which we see it. Power persuaders control the context of their message. Let me show you what I mean.
If I offered to give you ten million dollars to jump out of an airplane without a parachute, would you do it?
Before you read further, decide yes or no to this simple question.
In your mind, how high did you imagine the airplane would be flying? How fast did you imagine the airplane would be flying? What surface did you imagine landing on? Were you planning on spending the money yourself or leaving it to others?
The answers to these questions are the frame you used to interpret the original question about jumping out of an airplane.
Usually, when I have asked this question, the majority of the people assumed the airplane would be flying at a fairly high altitude and speed and that they would die on impact with the ground if they accepted the offer and jumped…
…that is exactly what I wanted them to think! (Cue evil laugh…bwahahahahah!)
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When I was learning to do in-home sales for a home improvement company, sometimes the people we met did not want to hear our full sales presentation – they just wanted to know how much the project was going to cost.
When you are the cheapest company on the block, giving a price fast can work for you. But, when you are one of the more expensive options, you need to spend some time building value in your company’s products and services to justify the premium. I was not selling cheap.
On those appointments where customers only wanted to know the price, they were framing the whole purchasing decision with the belief that every other home improvement company and contractor was offering the exact same product and service. At that moment, it did not matter to them how we did the work because it was, in their mind, the same as everyone else. So I would ask the airplane question to reframe the discussion and earn the opportunity to give my full sales presentation.
Inevitably, the response to my question about jumping out of the airplane was a resounding no. When I asked why they would give up 10 million dollars so easily, they usually said something like ‘I can’t spend it if I’m dead!!!‘
And then I would move in and reframe the question by asking, “would you have changed your mind if I told you it was a small single-engine airplane that was parked safely on the ground?”
Would you change your answer?
Reframing the question like that usually brought a laugh. Nobody would pass up the 10 million dollars if the airplane is parked on the ground. And, that is when I would reframe our whole conversation with one more question.
I would easily get their agreement to hear my full sales presentation by saying, “you just missed an opportunity to get 10 million dollars because you did not have all the information you needed. Think of all the things you could have done with that 10 million dollars. Now, if I simply gave you a price without taking time to tell you what you would be getting for your money, you would not know whether you were getting a good value – you might miss out on another opportunity because you did not have the information you needed to make a wise decision today. Does it make sense to take a few extra minutes to find out what you will get for your investment?”
Nearly always, I would get agreement. Then, after a few minutes of praising them for being a ‘smart home owner‘ who takes the time to invest in the best products for their home, I would move on and start my sales presentation.
There are a few other sales techniques at work in this little example, but the power of framing is front and center. Controlling the frame through which your message is heard is critical. The most carefully crafted message can be completely undermined if seen through the wrong frame.
So, how can a message be framed (or reframed)? If you are trying to persuade someone in a face-to-face situation, pay attention to your surroundings and the way you are dressed. This is the physical frame for your message.
When I was selling home improvements, we tried to do the sales presentation at the kitchen table. The reason — people tend to do business at the kitchen table. It’s where people sit when they pay the bills. That is the right frame for discussing (and selling) a home improvement project.
Creating a mental frame around your message is a little more challenging. Tapping into idioms like ‘you get what you pay for‘ or ‘all that glitters is not gold‘ can plant ideas in a person’s mind that they will easily agree with because they are accepted as a universal truth. Once accepted, those ideas will shape the way your message is interpreted.
Asking questions is another great way to frame a message. When you ask a question the listener has to consider it in order to reply. And, you can ask questions loaded with presuppositions. Stories are also extremely effective for framing your message. When you tell a story, the listener/reader naturally puts themselves inside the story in the place of the main character.
Pay attention to your frames and watch your persuasion efforts explode.
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