Persuasion Hiding In Plain Sight

One of the keys to persuasion is memory. A person has to remember what you said to be persuaded by it. In this post I will show you how these keys hide in plain sight in school.

My English teacher taught me some of the tools to hijack someone’s brain before I left middle school. Except I didn’t notice and neither did she. They’re hidden that well.

As an aside, I’m only writing this to see if I can convince myself with part of the story. There are some parts that I am leaving out because I am uncertain of them.

Anyway, you probably remember something about alliteration and rhyming. Your English teacher taught you that these were popular literary devices because they show up so commonly in artistically written language. The works that we hold up as the prime examples of great writing almost invariably use these tools.


Now I will show you a pattern that I can only see because of my studies in persuasion (go here or here if you want to start learning by observation).

These techniques all contribute to memory. First, they “flow off the tongue” really well. My unique perspective on this, which I have as a musician, is that these techniques cause the words to not only sound similar, but move your tongue in a similar way. That’s part of your body, which is controlled by part of your brain. The repetition builds the connections between whatever neurones were involved in the movement, making it easier to remember for next time. Not to mention, it’s easier to reference a line in conversation (something you might do at a pretentious university party, where English professors hang out) when it already sounds good.

Next, your brain will store the information with a similar association. If you want a quick example of how this works, notice that “broccoli” and “onion” both point to “vegetable” in your mind, but “tomato” might point to fruit too (depending on how you think of it). Except instead of by food type, the association goes by sound. So alliterated words are organized in a way that makes them easier to access quickly. You can see evidence of this here (boring though).

Note that if I ask you to name four words that rhyme with “chest”, you can probably do it faster than if I ask you to name four random words. And the four words you say usually don’t end up being random. (For instance, when I tried it, I ended up saying “Apple, Bacardi, black, silver” — two are obviously related, twice.)

Now what happens when, over the years, people are asked over and over to name a good poem, a great play, or a book recommendation?

The ones that were wired hard into your memory via literary devices came to mind easier than other ones. A person’s mind probably associated the feeling of enjoying the play, poem, whatever, with the more memorable work of art than the non-memorable work from a lesser creator. As a result, more people heard about these works, and they gained social proof much, much faster than the rest. (And did I mention that quotable art is easier to talk about?)

The competitors were simply forgotten.

The social proof associated with decades of “Hey, this Shakespeare guy was onto something,” in our school system is easy to remember. Which brings me back to literary tools as persuasion.

Let’s look at some — and note how easy it is to find musical examples.


“Trump Tower stands tall, taking space silently in sight.” (Sorry.)

Rhyming: (From Calvin Harris – Summer)

When I met you in the summer
To my heartbeat sound
We fell in love
As the leaves turn brown

Repetition: (From Above & Beyond – We’re All We Need)

We’re all we need
We’re all we need
We’re all we need
We’re all we need

Sensory imagery:

Particularly with metaphors, people will understand and remember something better if you wrap it in a sensory metaphor.




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