From Larry The Cable Guy:
“I was more frustrated than a starving Ethiopian with no legs watching a doughnut roll down a hill.”
Yeah, it’s tasteless. But it is funny. And, more importantly, it creates a vivid mental picture. I don’t talk about this much, but I think a ‘secret’ to persuasion in print, especially in print where there are no voice inflections or gestures or body language – but in other venues as well – is the crafting and delivery of vivid mental pictures.
We just went back to print another 25,000 ‘Why Do I Always Have To Sit Next To the Farting Cat?’ books to fill orders – and we’ve sold over 200,000 of the things, in part, because they work for the marketers using them, but also in part because the title conjures up a vivid mental picture.
Fiction writers are better at this than most of us are, which is why I’ve always studied good, popular, successful fiction writers to improve my skill as a sales writer.
Comedy writers are good at this too. I’ve been a joke writer almost all my life – in fact, I wrote comedy for a disc jockey and his nationally syndicated comedy newsletter when I was 17, 18 and 19. I can take a bad or ordinary joke and enhance it a lot by building better mental pictures in it. If it’s one I intend using in a speech, I work on it in writing, get it right, then tell it that way to anybody a dozen times and then I’ve got it. I’ve been a serious student of this for 30 years, studying Benchley, Thurber, Parr, Berman, Newhart, Charlie Jarvis, Steve Allen, and on and on.
Anyway, language that creates vivid pictures is very powerful. It has lost its power of late, but for years President Bush has gotten much mileage by merely mentioning “9/11” because we instantly see the smoke pouring from the collapsing towers, the panicked people running in the streets, and the weary firefighters, faces caked with smoke and char, digging. A lot of mileage, too, out of “we fight the terrorists over there or we’ll fight them here, in our streets.” People see that when it’s said. And that’s the question: do people see something when you say what you say or write what you write?
Most people don’t invest much conscious thought into the words they use. They wing it. I never have. I’ve carefully developed and stored countless stories, anecdotes, parables and jokes, to be pulled out and used again and again. Every sales pro should have this, at least for his main sales presentations, products or services. Amateurs wing it. Pros do not.
The other day, a client visiting said, “ I don’t think much of anything you do is accidental.” He is correct.