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The Beginner’s Guide to Hijacking Elephants (Part 2/2)

Last week I talked about how you can get people’s attention, not by being the loudest, most flashy son of a bitch out there, but by getting their emotional brain on board with you right from the start, aka hijacking their elephants. (If you haven’t read that, here’s the link.)

Here's how it works: you buy in with novelty. You stay in with empathy.

So, a little bit more science for you. When your brain comes across something that’s surprising, new, or in any way a mystery, it naturally focuses on that. (For my fellow neuroscience nerds, you get a big dose of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.) 

This is because way back when, something that was new or surprising more likely than not wanted to eat you — so although there are no longer predators stalking us on the daily, your brain still reacts with the same speed and focus as though there were.

So what does this look like practically?

I am NOT talking about things like pop up ads and bait-and-switch scenarios. While those will give you an small reaction, most of us are way savvy to this by now, and so we no longer get the charge off of it like we used to. So forget the low end stuff, and ship good product like:

Words you don’t normally see together, or phrases in unusual places. For instance, the help button on Acuity doesn’t say “Help”, it alternates between funny sayings like: “Admitting it. I need help!”, "Pants on fire!", and "Need help? Call Ghostbusters. (Just kidding.)"

The beginning to an interesting story. For example, I wrote an email for a client a while back started with ,“7 years ago, I nearly found myself facedown in an open abdomen.”

A seemingly contradictory statement. One of my clients teaches people who hate selling how to be good at it. I wrote her a bio that started with, “I’m Leigh Ashton, and I will not teach you how to be a salesperson.”

A truth that’s typically left unspoken. For example: For the no-pants Skypers. The Netflix binge champions. The marathon nappers. Your undies await.”

This is definitely not an exhaustive list, but it’s more than enough to get you started.

But, as you know, it’s not enough just to get that initial attention — you need people to stick around.

And that’s where the empathy comes in. You want to implicitly reward people for reading your stuff, so you use what you know about them (hint: it should be pretty much everything) to follow up with content that you know is going to connect with them specifically.

Since the way you do this is unique to the audience, it’s hard to give step by step advice on, but the first step here is really getting a handle on who your people are. That’s why this makes up a huge chunk of the work I do with my 1:1 clients, because if you’re not 100% sure who you’re writing to, then it’s all going to be guesswork. (Need help with this? I'm at your service.)

Once you do know them inside out and upside down, you want to think about things you can say to them that show them that you really get them. For instance, with my client who trains small business owners to be better at sales, I was able to get the surprise and the empathy all into that one sentence. Readers have two responses pretty much simultaneously:

“I won’t teach you how to be a salesperson” -- Say what? I thought you were a sales consultant? Isn’t that what you do?


“I won’t teach you be a salesperson” — Oh thank God, I fucking hate salespeople.

The whole point is to show them that you really get them. Because once you’re in that “one of us” tribe in someone’s brain, they are waaaaaaay more receptive to what you have to say. (Thus says science.)

So remember, surprise + empathy = interested elephants, and interested elephants = engaged rider. 

And when you've got an interested elephant and an engaged rider? That's when you've got their attention for good.

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