Jeff Masters Reviews ‘Lessons On Persuasion From Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, And Lady Gaga’

By Jeff Masters via Wunderblog

With a name like “Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga”, a book with a title like that compels one to pick it up and see what the heck the author is talking about. And Joe Romm’s new book on how to communicate doesn’t disappoint–it’s a thoughtful and compelling look at the techniques used by some of history’s great communicators to help persuade.

Joe Romm is author of the blog, the most visited climate change blog on the Internet, and the main blog that I use to stay current on climate change and energy news. Romm defines Language Intelligence as “the ability to convince people of something both intellectually and emotionally, at both a conscious and unconscious level.” He goes on to say, “If facts were sufficient to persuade people, then experts in science would rule the world. But facts are not, and scientists do not. We filter out all the facts that do not match our views.”

At the heart of great communication lies great story telling, and Romm give us these tips on how to tell a story people will want to read:

  • Write a great headline: Newspaper readers read 56% of the headlines, but only 13% of the stories are at least half-read. Headlines are even more important on-line, since they are what show up on Google searches and tweets. An example of one the most re-tweeted headlines Romm used in 2011: “Mother Nature is Just Getting Warmed Up: June 2011 Heat Records Crushing Cold Records by 13 to 1” (Romm uses a pun and personification to help create an eye-catching headline.)
  • Short words are the best words.
  • Slogans sell.
  • If you don’t repeat, you can’t compete. Repetition and rhyming help people remember your message.
  • The golden rule of speech-making is: “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em; tell ’em; then tell ’em what you told ’em.”
  • Repeated distortions and smears are as effective as repeated truths, so beware of these sorts of attacks.
  • If you want to de-bunk a myth, you need to focus on stating the truth, not repeating the myth.
  • If you want to be more noticed and remembered, use more figures of speech (metaphors.) Examples of metaphors I’ve used include comparing our melting Arctic to the attic of a house that is on fire (Earth’s attic is on fire: Arctic sea ice bottoms out at a new record low) and comparing the impact of global warming on extreme weather to the impact steroids have on a baseball slugger (Extreme events of 2011: climate change a major factor in some, but not all).
  • Create an extended metaphor when you have a big task at hand. Countless books and articles underscore that extended metaphors are at the core of human thinking.

National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Dr. Jerry Meehl uses a metaphor to explain how climate change’s impact on extreme weather is similar to how steroids affect a baseball slugger’s ability to hit a ball out of the park.

At 183 pages, the book only took me about two hours to read, and I was very glad I did. It was very entertaining and informative, and anyone involved in public communication can learn from this book.

I give it my highest rating: four stars out of four. Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga is $9.67 from [Kindle is here].


23 Responses to Jeff Masters Reviews ‘Lessons On Persuasion From Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, And Lady Gaga’

  1. Steve L says:

    I’ve been thinking about making t-shirts and getting them to people in specific areas to hopefully change the environment wrt having discussions of the climate. I was thinking things like:
    “Hooray for the reality-based community! Now can we put a price on carbon?”
    “The future is coming! The future is coming! Green technology is in our future!”
    “What is ocean acidification? Another good reason to reduce carbon emissions.”

    I’m no marketer, but I know that a mix of engaging and provocative is good. Now from the above post I know that my suggestions (a) don’t rhyme enough, (b) probably use words that are too big, and (c) fail to pierce the psyche with metaphor. The only good thing is repetition — getting people wearing shirts in various venues in a particular city could make a difference.

    Can someone design a better t-shirt? Via the internet, I’m not reaching who I need to reach, and I’m too shy just to go up to someone on the street and start talking about global warming.

  2. Ray Kondrasuk says:

    After reading Senator James Inhofe’s (R-Okla)
    “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future”, I read Joe’s book, then began re-reading Inhofe’s
    persuasive (to deniers) narrative.

    48 pages into the second-time “Hoax” book, Inhofe has already used “hoax/scam/manipulation” 28 times as well as some form of “extremist/alarmist/hysteria” 21
    times. Repeat, repeat…

    Interestingly, he never encapsulates those terms in parenthesis, yet mocks the words “skeptics” and “deniers” by setting them apart with the “…” label.

    And that’s just language… I’ll have to save references to his shoddy citations for another comment as I re-plow through his…sad to say… persuasive arguments.

    He’s a smooth talker… to his own camp. Joe, he must have read your book before he wrote his own.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    I designed a few and offer them via spreadshirt (Europe and USA market)

  4. prokaryotes says:

    Another way is to distribute via Cafepress, like does

  5. prokaryotes says:

    Another way to spread awareness is to conduct interviews, messaging, talks, radio etc etc and upload them to YouTube.

    I reached almost half a million viewers with my channel so far

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    Can you make t shirts with the New Yorker shareholder value cartoon on them?

  7. prokaryotes says:

    Basically yes. You can use 2 kind of graphic sources, either pixel (multiple colors) or vector image (not more than 3 colors) format. Though pixel graphics require a higher resolution or the image quality could suffer. Also with vector graphics you can change colors.

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    Joe, your book deserved Jeff’s glowing review, but what is your strategy for reaching the uninformed majority? They get their information from the media, which as you know is not performing.

    As an example, a guest at my friend’s Thanksgiving dinner was an airline pilot, and climate change denier. He is based in Seattle, but gets his information from TV and talk radio. When I informed him that all of the world’s scientific academies don’t consider global warming science robust, he was surprised, and believed that the science is controversial.

    Never mind the Honey Boo-Boo crowd, how do we reach the passive and uninformed middle?

  9. Mike Roddy says:

    typo correction: “the world’s scientific academies consider global warming science robust”; delete the “don’t” from my first draft.

  10. prokaryotes says:

    Pixel images should have around 300dpi and it is possible to “vectorize” them, but the outcome strongly depends on the image quality. So if you got a high resolution (around 1800x1800pixel format) then this is ok for print. Vectorizing can be tried too but this could possibly mean a bit of work to adjust fine lines which are very small/fine and not match the printing nozzle.

  11. Jim McKay says:

    I agree w/almost everything said… Romm is reliably and insightfully informative, with integrity (what he say is… true). I agree w/and like his definition of “language intelligence”. However, I don’t agree with his list of “short” words or anything else there, because… it hasn’t worked.

    Really, we haven’t even begun to move enough people convinced in a fashion Romm suggests, that… for any kind of future for people on this big Rock, we need a thorough reconsideration of what’s valued, commonly. Then, some meaningful action behind it. I just don’t see any of this.

    As far as the “Jesus” part of your intro, AFAIC that guy’s “metaphor” (I wouldn’t all it that, but…) about the “rich man” and “camel passing through the eye of a needle” was never more appropriate then now. We are dominated by various sources informing most of the public, financed by their 50-120 year old dirty energy $$ machine, convincing the public “moving on” compromises their “rights”, while simultaneously using their “information” outlets to lie… essentially persuading the public that knowledge gained by humanity in the last 50+ years is good enough to split the atom, and create man made materials and so much more, but…

    Harvesting green energy from the sun, cheaply… in a way that would eliminate our oil wars (Iraq etc.) and all the rest..

    No, these guys “rights” financed by US public’s continued purchase of their fuel at hugely inflated prices, is a closed loop by which all this nonsense persists.

    I have great respect for Romm. I also have found, the failure to move things forward and, more importantly what will be required to do so, is gon’a take some serious awakening in a whole lot of people currently lulled to sleep by satisfaction in various level of creature comforts… and blinded by knowledge of their ability to accomplish far beyond what now exists.

    We don’t have a democracy at all. Rather, just a 97% who have been persuaded to “believe” we do.

    Both a joke and a tragedy… all in one.

  12. Steve L says:

    Thanks for all this great info. I’ll check out your links.

  13. Joe Romm says:

    Funny you should mention that. I’ll be announcing the next big project I’m working on it very shortly….

  14. john atcheson says:

    “Intelligence” is the best book I’ve ever read, bar none, on communication.

    If you look at how deniers and the tobacco deniers convinced so many people with so little evidence, Joe’s book explains it. They used a lot of the ideas and concepts Joe recommends.

    I hope advocates read and heed this book.

  15. Bill Dundas says:

    “A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” (Max Planck)

  16. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    If anyone here has not yet read Joe’s book I suggest you do. It is a very easy read with easy to apply ideas.

    You will not be an instant expert, but your persuasiveness will improve. Even if you are good, this book will help you to get better.

    Given that it is a while since I read it, time to read it again.

  17. Anne says:

    Hey, how about this– instead of click-click-Amazon – venture out to your nearest privately owned bookstore – for me it would Politics and Prose on Connecticut Avenue – and buy this book there. These folks need your biz, and it’s great that the corporate chains and Amazon haven’t driven them away.

  18. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Mike – we could make a seminal shift in communications effectiveness by distiguishing between
    ‘deniers’ – who profit financially or politically from denying AGW, though with their focus on the issue and the weight of evidence repeatedly shown to them they have to know it’s real; and,
    ‘flukers’ – who have yet to to hear the strength of scinetific consensus or get their heads round the reality than mankind can affect something as huge as the planet’s atmosphere, and assume that all the intensifying extreme weather events are just flukes upon flukes upon flukes.

    Calling ordinary decent people ‘deniers’ is a pretty certain way of failing to persuade them of anything. Promoting the non-judgemental term ‘fluker’, that doesn’t denigrate their integrity but puts their assumption to the test with each new weather calamity, is surely the key means of encouraging productive discussion between the ~70% of Americans that get AGW and the ~29% who’ve yet to do so. We have both the high ground and the numbers – let’s use them efficiently.



  19. bSpittle says:

    I’ve been boycotting amazon for a couple years now.
    I don’t plan to stop boycotting them (for jumping into california politics).

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    A giant capitalist corporation jumping into politics!? The very idea!

  21. Mike Roddy says:

    You’re right. We need to call the media to account, and replace them if necessary.

  22. Mike Roddy says:

    What you say makes sense, Lewis, but I don’t believe that 70% of Americans get global warming. That is an exaggeration caused by quirks of polling methodology. Of that 70%, many if not most have no idea of how dire the consequences are. They are the ones we have to reach, and the media is blowing it.

  23. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Mike – I can’t say what the accuracy of the polls are, but I see Joe reporting them regularly, and he’s too cautious to push an exaggeration I think.

    On the degree of recognition of the threat I’d fully agree that among a majority there is only a vague understanding of AGW, with a small subset seeing more but still woefully ill informed, and only a really small fraction with a good grasp of the issues. And of the latter, how many have, say, ‘done the maths’ of Hansen’s warning of the impact of ending the sulphate parasol ?

    From this perspective the discussions that need to be encouraged will not be simply 70:29, but something more like one advocate to five concerned to one puzzled to three unaware – which in a social setting means that the subject is dropped if it relies on offensive characterizations – hence the potentially seminal value of the term Fluker. Once the discussion is socially acceptable, there is the chance both for raising the info among the concerned and having their help in persuading flukers to look at the evidence impartially.

    With regard to the media blowing it, from Huffpost through to the Saudi-Murdoch Fox, your proposals of a real news outlet still appeals, though it would take immense funding to provide a fraction of the volume. From which POV we’re back retrofitting spines to neo-journalists – though few hawks would mourn more direct options, such as a free Friday-night gift of a truckload of readymix concrete to the main sewer outflow from propagandists’ HQ’s. (Disruption plus ridicule compounds impact).

    But on balance, I’d say that it’s the discussions ordinary people initiate that are going to be the critical shift, with serial climate impacts racking up the concern. Beside introducing the enabling term ‘fluker’, the other core contribution we should offer is a clear and credible set of actions people can take, including IMHO:

    – specific demands for commensurate national and UN action by the White House;
    – a decision to vote for candidates’ climate profile in 2014 and not for party or other priority;
    – a commitment to help organize or at least join any climate demos occurring; and
    – a pledge to plant, or have planted, at least seven native trees per year of ones age (the timelags make this no kind of ‘offset’, but very worthwhile both long-term and socially).