“For imagination sets the goal picture which our automatic mechanism works on. We act, or fail to act, not because of will, as is so commonly believed, but because of imagination.” – Maxwell Maltz, Born Mar. 10, 1899.
The vast majority of people possess withered and disused imaginations. Having to deal with the real world constantly can have that effect.
It's why fiction exists at all – because specialized imagination engineers can make a ton of money. Writing, drawing, video, etc.
So our need as persuaders, if we aim to get people to act a certain way, is to engage and feed and inspire their imaginations.
And I don't mean that you have to be a genius, or creative, or even very inventive. You just have to be descriptive enough for the reader or viewer to be able to envision your idea sufficiently.
That is how deficient their own capability to dream is.
They can't have a vision or a daydream of their own. They cobble one together from what they can find around themselves.
So if you have access to them, and can communicate across multiple messages…
You can augment, inform, and dictate your vision to their imaginations. Feed it. Fuel it. Fan its flames.
And if you can do that, you essentially are also dictating how they will act or not act.
What do we want them to imagine? Solutions to their problems. A fun and fortunate future. A life they didn’t even dream about before they met you and made it infect their brains.
And it IS like an infection. You can give people a breathtaking vision that haunts their daydreams, and an apocalypse scenario that stalks their nightmares.
And what do they do? Make small decisions day by day to move toward one, and away from the other. Inch by inch. Or leap by leap (if they buy the shortcuts you sell…)
Strong juju. Use with caution.
Need some more practical meat on these metaphorical bones? Here are a few quick tips on engaging the reader/viewer's imagination.
1. Use a clear POV. Let them see through someone's eyes. “When I was a freelancer, I used to see it all the time. You walk into the client's office and they're resistant the moment they see you…”
2. Be visual. Show action happening, but let them observe and make conclusions and then confirm them afterward. “The office was puke-green and decorated with what looked like fashion ads from the bad part of the 1980s…”
3. Use other senses, too. But remember that the imagination is largely audio/visual. However sense details can help recall memory. “The stale air reeked of aerosol air-freshener, chemicals and lemons invaded your sinuses while you sat uncomfortably under buzzing fluorescent lighting…”
4. Ask people to remember the last time they used their imagination and daydreamed/fantasized. This can basically put them in the mood to do some imagining. “Did you ever have a dream car as a kid? One that you actually used to daydream about driving, staring at a poster of it on your wall? A convertible maybe, top down, cruising the beach?”
5. Ask them to actually imagine things. Be explicit when you do. And then show them examples to fuel their imaginations. “Take a moment just to imagine what your life might be like if we got rid of that annoying daily hassle? What would you do with that time instead? Walk the dog? Cook spaghetti? Watch Samurai movies?”
6. Use references to common pop culture material or current events the audience may be familiar with. Again, their imaginations need fuel, and using films or current events can be a quick way to help them “get” a given scenario. “He looked like a fat, bald Arnold Schwarzenegger. But when he talked, he sounded just like Kramer from Seinfeld…”
7. Make it fun by starting with something familiar they have actually experienced, and then depart from that into stranger places they've never been to in their own minds. “Imagine you're at work, in your cube, drinking coffee and ignoring emails, when all of a sudden a car crashes through the wall beside you, not ten feet from where you sit…”
Try some of those tricks, and your messages are much more likely to get consumed, incorporated into their mental landscape, and become part of their future decision-making.