Your Connotation Is Showing

hen I was in junior high school, I recall my English profes sor telling me about the denotation and connotation of words. Denotations are the dictionary meanings. Connotations are the colloquial meanings. If you didn't know both, you could confuse people.

For example, there are 18 denotations for the word great. (Check your dictionary.)

But the connotation of the same word means much more. Haven't you used it to mean everything from "I loved it!" to "It was incredible" to "It was better than I thought"?

In fact, the word great is so often used that it's almost meaningless. we simply assume anyone who says something was great means they liked it. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. But they mean something positive. That's the general acceptance of the word great. That's the connotation of the word.

well, stories are the same way.

Stories have a direct meaning—most likely what you are describing or declaring.

But stories also have an indirect meaning—what people conclude from what you are describing or declaring.

In short, stories have denotations as well as connotations.

Hypnotic Selling Stories are created around their connotations. In other words, their indirect communications do the selling more than their direct communications.

I'm sure you'd like an example by now.

One day many years ago I met a woman at a restaurant in Houston. I was teaching writing classes at the time. She wanted to meet me to ask questions about my classes, my books, and so forth. At that time, I didn't mind meeting complete strangers for an hour of lively discussion.

I told her about classes and said something along these lines:

"I love teaching my classes. People always buy my books and tapes after it ends, too. My first e-book Hypnotic Writing sells the best. I'm not sure what gets people so excited about it but they line up to buy it. Several people wrote books of their own after reading it. I make $40 every time I sell it, so I'm smiling in class the whole time."

After a few minutes of my impassioned talk, she smiled and said, "You do it so well." "I do what so well?" I asked.

"You're selling me on your books without asking me to buy them," she explained. "I want all of them."

That's when I realized I had created a Hypnotic Selling Story.

My exact dialogue was simply the denotation of my communication. But my connotation said things like "My books are great" and "People use them for quick results" and "Joe's classes are popular."

Do you see what I mean? Here's another quick story.

Nerissa came up to my office earlier today and asked for my help with a classified ad she wanted to run. She owns a rental unit in Austin and wants a new tenant. So we went over the various words she could use in her ad. We also went online and noted all the other similar ads running for places like hers. It was clear she had to word her ad differently.

I suggested she begin her ad with a question. Since all the other ads simple declared, "Great location!" or "Great view!" she needed to stand out from the crowd. So we went with: "Do you like walking, hiking, or just watching trees and birds?" She liked the headline and used it in her ad.

What did you notice?

On the denotation level, the message is along the lines of just the facts: I helped Nerissa by creating a unique headline for her.

But on the connotation level the communication is more like, "If you want an ad written, call Joe. Even his girlfriend goes to him in a pinch."

When you create your own Hypnotic Selling Stories, keep in mind there are two messages being communicated: the direct one and the indirect one.

The first should hold the attention of people. The second should sell them.

In fact, this entire chapter has a denotation and a connotation. The denotation is that every story has two meanings. What is the connotation?

(Hint: It's whatever you concluded from the chapter. There is no right or wrong answer.)

My friend Blair Warren, author of the powerful book The Forbidden Keys to Persuasion, says this:

"One reason stories are so persuasive is that they allow people to draw their own conclusions. Ironically, the conclusion drawn must be based on the material as presented in the story—material placed there by the storyteller. Thus, the lesson for persuasion is, tell a story that doesn't "ram a conclusion down your audience's throat," but one that naturally leads your audience to make the conclusion that supports your proposition. As the following excerpt explains, people rarely argue with their own conclusions, making an effective story a virtual Trojan horse for the persuader's ideas.

"I remember reading a story many years ago about Ted Turner. Though I can't recall the author, the title, the magazine, or anything substantive about the article, there was something about it I will never forget. In it, there was a very brief account of the author riding along in Turner's vehicle as they got to know one another. At one point, Turner unexpectedly stopped his vehicle and, without saying a word, walked over to a soda can lying on the ground. He picked it up, threw it into the back of his vehicle, and continued driving. With that single anecdote the author painted a picture of an environmentally friendly and conscientious man. Had he simply said those things about Turner, they'd have gone unnoticed. But by showing Turner in action, the author allowed me to make that conclusion on my own. And not only have I never forgotten it, I've never questioned it.

"Without a doubt, we are more committed to what we conclude than what we are told. If we come to believe something is false, virtually nothing will convince us it is true. If we come to believe something is true, virtually nothing will convince us it is false. The problem is, despite our faith in our conclusions, they often lead us astray without us even being aware of it. While few of us give this a second thought, masters of persuasion never lose sight of the fact that people sometimes believe what they are told, but never doubt what they conclude."

Again, keep these ideas in mind as you move through this book and consider writing your own Hypnotic Selling Stories.

As you can imagine, you're dealing with phenomenal power here. Use it wisely.

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