From time to time I fantasise about writing blog posts in
the style of Dickens or Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.
I write a good deal of content for consumption by people on
the internet who have limited, and narrowing, attention spans.
To counter this I have employed a technique which writers
for the internet, bloggers, and content marketers are advised to use. This
involves short words, short sentences, short paragraphs, and lots of white
One of the objectives of this technique is to make the content
as snackable and accessible as possible. And I know it works because people frequently
tell me they love reading my stuff, that I make it easy to read and understand,
and so forth.
This is not an accident for this is precisely what I set out
But sometimes I dream about writing a blog post in one or
two long sentences-in the style of Charles Dickens, for example.
And I imagine throwing in words that are not short and
simple and have only one syllable. But words that are difficult, obscure, rarely
used but appropriate for the situation. Words and phrases like ‘dissipation’, ‘urbanity’,
‘agreeable’, ‘disagreeable’, ‘displeasure’, ‘much engaged’, ‘prodigiously’, ‘melancholy’,
‘admonition’, ‘withering scorn’, ‘much occupied by his sagacity’, ‘unreserved
intimacy’, ‘unquiet spirit’, and so forth.
Maybe one day, for the sheer hell of it, I will ‘fall to
prodigiously’ and break loose.
Using story is one of the most effective ways of communicating and persuading.
A story can be as short as 3 seconds, or as long as a lifetime.
The video below is a 5-minute story and you will probably recognise the 3 “acts” or “stages” in it. Making this video is the product of a challenge I set myself on a Saturday morning in April: make a story out of something ordinary around my home on an average Saturday.
If you need to influence or persuade, and let’s face it-who
doesn’t, you will probably benefit greatly by thinking about how you can use
story in your aid.
If I was accused of murder I would hate to see Michael
Bowman SC prosecuting me. Although if I had Bernard Condon SC defending my
chances of acquittal would be greatly enhanced.
My attention has been arrested by the word pictures these
two men have been painting for the jury this week in the Patrick Quirke murder
trial-that is, the trial involving a so called ‘love triangle’ in Tipperary
involving Patrick Quirke, Bobby Ryan, and Mary Lowry.
Leaving aside a close examination of the evidence what I
have found fascinating and educational is the ability of these two senior
counsels to communicate with the jury in a way that is easily understood.
By painting word pictures.
Let me explain.
Much, or all, of the evidence against Patrick Quirke is
Anyone who has watched a tv programme involving law/crime
knows that circumstantial evidence is not the best evidence you can have. In
fact, it can be hugely problematic.
You may have heard the phrase that the evidence was ‘only circumstantial
evidence’ and therefore a conviction could not be safely arrived at.
Michael Bowman SC appeared, to this lay observer’s eye, to
address this problem when addressing the jury this week. He met the problem
head on and dealt with it up front by telling the jury “The human condition can
only tolerate so much coincidence before we shake our head and say that is not
coincidence – that is planned”.
In other words, he seemed to feel their pain but gave them a
perfectly reasonable out: a reason for conviction. He told them it wasn’t their
fault, that the human condition could only accept so much as coincidence.
In fact, he planted the image, in my mind anyway, of someone
shaking their head and saying ‘enough is enough, this evidence might be
circumstantial but this cannot just be explained as a coincidence’.
He then went further and addressed what they the jury had
seen during the course of the trial: Patrick Quirke, the accused, appearing as
a loving husband and father.
And even then, using their critical faculties, they would be
justified in bringing in a guilty verdict.
Mr. Bowman then painted the picture of the victim, Bobby
Ryan, as a man “living a quiet and peaceful and content life in a small
village, a man who lived his job, a man who loved music, a man who loved to
dance, who loved his girlfriend and who very dearly loved his two children.”
He said “Who would want to take the life of such a man?
To strip him naked of his worldly possessions and his dignity and leave his
body to decompose in a sealed chamber on a farm in Fawnagowan?”
The defence and the train
Then later Mr. Bernard Condon SC for the defence addressed
the jury. He, too, painted vivid word pictures for the jury. He told them about
a train and train stations. Everyone understands what a train is; nobody will
be left behind by being asked to imagine a train station.
But first, he told the jury that much was being made of
circumstantial evidence, but he warned that “circumstantial evidence is
not a shortcut to convict”.
And then he turned to the train images. He told the jury that
when they looked at the evidence, they were taking a journey in the
“forensic equivalent to a train”.
He said, “You are being invited by the prosecution to
go to the last station on the line, it will be uphill and will twist and curve”.
And he said the prosecution should be able to bring them to the very last
station on the journey with evidence as the fuel.
“If it isn’t the sort of evidence that you yourself
would be happy to be convicted on, if it is not grade-A fuel, you will not get
to the station at the top marked guilty,” he said.
Mr Condon said Mr Quirke was “parked in the train
station marked innocence” and it was up to the prosecution to move him out
of it and they had to do that with evidence.
But he said there was a problem here because “the
evidence is thin”. He said, “You will have to pass through several
stops, you may go past suspicion station, likelihood station and even
probability station, but if you get out there you are in the wrong place for
Word pictures and persuasion
I don’t know what the jury will do and, quite frankly, I don’t
envy their task.
But the value of images and story in the science and art of
persuasion has again been brought forcefully home to me by the powerful use of
words and images of these two lawyers at the peak of their powers.
I have written many times before about the value of story:
I intend rectifying the situation in the next few weeks by
updating it with new material. You may think that the strategy I set out in that
book must be outdated now and changes in the digital marketing space would
render the strategy worthless or irrelevant.
That is not the case at all.
I carried out a review at the weekend to see how my method
as outlined in that book compared with the strategies and methods put forward
by other digital marketing practitioners/teachers at that time.
And I am still executing the same strategies with a great
deal of success and the three contemporaries who I researched at the weekend
have quit what they were recommending back in 2015/2016.
I am certain that what I have set out in my book is sound
and works like gangbusters but there are some significant improvements that I
have made in the years since first publication. So, my strategy is essentially
the same but I would recommend some tweaks and enhancements, especially in the
area of advertising on certain social media platforms.
These are the areas I will be focusing on when I update in
the next few weeks. Meanwhile the 5 steps I have enunciated in the original book
are as sound and relevant today as they were then. Not only am I taking the
same 5 steps now on a weekly basis, but I have added some enhancements which I
am looking forward to sharing in the updated version.
From August 2018 to date, April 2019, I have lost 3.5 stone weight.
And the most important thing I have
learned from the exercise has not been about the food I eat or the exercise I
No, these things are important, alright, but they are not
the most important thing. The most important thing I will tell you later but
first I will tell you how I managed it.
There is no mystery, no huge secret, no fad diet, no ‘Hollywood’
diet; I followed the RTE Operation Transformation programme. I stuck rigidly
with the eating plans and the exercise and the weight slowly but inexorably reduced.
My target is to lose 4 stone and I am confident I will
achieve this provided I apply the one lesson I have learned-that is, the weight
loss is less about what I eat and all about something else: habit(s).
Habit formation is the key.
Losing bad habits, developing good ones. This is the one
critically important lesson I have learned and taken from the exercise.
It is a lesson that is applicable in all parts of life and
there have been countless books written about habits, getting rid of destructive
ones and creating new, useful ones. Two popular and well-regarded books dealing
with habits are:
The takeaway for me is often you must look for the “thing
under the thing” to alter your behaviour and win the outcome you are seeking.
In my case it was the development of good habits and the eradication
of destructive habits around food that was the primary step in losing the weight,
and not an all-consuming focus on calorie counting or other method of score
keeping what I was consuming.
I came across a report in the newspaper this morning, a court report of a psychiatrist who had been struck off the medical register by the President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Peter Kelly. The learned Judge found that the consultant psychiatrist was guilty of professional misconduct and “moral turpitude” for being involved in a relationship with a vulnerable patient. The patient had suffered with bi-polar disorder and suffered from post-traumatic stress and was “a highly vulnerable person”.
What piqued my interest about this report, however, was the use of the phrase “moral turpitude”. It is not the type of phrase you come across in everyday social intercourse or at the water cooler or shop or factory floor of your workplace.
I love when Court decisions and comments by Judges in delivering judgment contain such phrases, though, because I have always loved words.
I have also always loved phrases and sentences and paragraphs and books and reading and literature. And all of these things start with a single word.
Words in the English language have been under assault for a while now thanks mainly, I believe, to the dumbing down of language and words by Americans. The overuse of words like “awesome” and “so” and “super” has, regrettably, spread to this side of the world and it appears to be a type of linguistic race to the bottom in an effort to reduce the English language to simple words of one or two syllables which are used in all circumstances.
For example, describing something as “super good” or “super bad”. These types of phrases are to be heard every day of the week in all types of settings and contexts and are so devoid of colour and description and vividness as to make me want to throw up.
The influence of US culture in spreading this virus of verbal diarrhoea to this part of the world has caused ordinary Joes from Tipperary and Donegal and Wexford to appear in the media spewing this nonsense.
So, regardless of what you think of the legal system in this country, regardless of how you view Judges, credit is due to for fighting the good fight in endeavouring to hold onto the English language-the full version in all its pomp and power, not the simplified, emasculated, shrunk down version in which “super” and “awesome” reign like the plague.
I come across all types of individuals every month, some of
whom exhaust my patience to varying degrees.
Firstly, there is the freeloader, the person who thinks you
should be perfectly happy to review and assess their circumstances and advise
whether they have a case or not. If you find they have they will pay for a
consultation; if they don’t, they don’t expect to pay anything.
As for my time and expertise, this is expected to be applied
freely, liberally, and gratis. When you ask them, in turn, will they pop around
to my house at the weekend and mow the grass, wash my car, and paint the garage
they feel to see the connection.
Secondly there is the employee who exhibits signs of
paranoia. This person is in constant contact by email or phone or both to
update me of the situation in her workplace, but nothing has actually happened.
Nothing, that is, save for a tsunami of new thoughts from
the employee about what other people are thinking, what other people intend
doing, and the future outcome of the situation or crisis, depending on your
view, and the ultimate outcome which is uncannily crystal clear to the
Nevertheless, she continues to update with a frequency and detail
that causes a genuine concern that she is delusional and in need of help from a
medical professional who is expert in the workings of the mind.
Thirdly, there is the guy who believes you were obliged to
work for him for free and, even though you have won his case, the damages awarded
were not of a sufficient quantum to persuade him otherwise.
I do accept, however, if I am not coming across these guys
with regularity I am not coming across the gems of clients-the decent
individuals who are genuinely appreciative of the efforts made on their behalf.
And I am a firm believer in the saying, “when you enlist, you may soldier”. So, I shall continue to soldier with determination and focus, having swallowed hard.
There is a tremendous danger, however, in putting all your
eggs in one basket.
Recently I met a young woman whose entire business-surprisingly
successful-was based on the popularity of her Facebook page and Facebook
When she fell foul, however, of Facebook’s advertising
policies she was prevented from advertising and her page was effectively shut
down. This ended her business and she came to me for advice.
The difficulty is that Facebook or YouTube are private platforms
owned by limited companies-Facebook and Google-and do not have any public
service obligations, for example those that RTE must adhere to.
So, when Facebook close your account because you have
breached their advertising policies, and you have unsuccessfully appealed their
decision, it is difficult to see anywhere else you might profitably pursue the
The takeaway is that these platforms make the rules and if
you want to play you need to keep a weather eye on their policies and
procedures, which do change frequently, to ensure you are not shooting yourself
in the foot and destroying your business.
And you also need to ensure that you do not develop an unhealthy
overreliance on one platform.
When you are considering getting expert advice from a
consultant or other professional, and you are concerned about their claims of
relevant experience, ask yourself whether they have one year’s experience
repeated multiple times.
Or whether they genuinely got 20 years of varied,
wide-ranging experience in the sphere of activity that concerns you.
This is an easy mistake to make.
We all know people who appear to be wise, sagacious, and
experienced but when you look more closely you may find someone who has
repeatedly carried out a narrow range of tasks in a limited area of activity.
One of the most frustrating types of person I have met since the great Irish property crash in 2007 is the person struggling with debts who will clutch at any straw to believe there is a simple solution.
And there has been a significant number of individuals who are happy to peddle a concoction of legal mumbo jumbo and snake oil to the desperate borrower struggling with, in many cases, unsustainable debt.
“It’s not your fault”
It all starts with a simple but beguiling assertion: “It’s not your fault”.
This is tremendously powerful. Tell anyone who is struggling with a problem for years that it’s not their fault, that they have been beating themselves up all this time needlessly, and a good many people will happily accept this proposition.
Once they do they are further persuaded by the pointing of the finger at others for the problem. Politicians? Bankers? Property developers? The Central Bank? The EU? German banks? Take your pick.
Pseudo legal mumbo jumbo
Then the charlatan provides the solution. It may be based on some misguided, misconceived version of a half baked idea with a passing acquaintance with a law from hundreds of years ago or it may be a concoction of pseudo legal mumbo jumbo that has as much legal substance or validity as snow disappearing off a hedge.
The underlying arguments may be based on ideology, political views, morality, philosophy but the problem with these arguments is a simple one: when the case comes before a Judge or the County Registrar the issues will be settled by recourse to the law of the land.
And there is a fundamental inescapable problem facing borrowers: the mortgage contract or agreement. This contract will provide that the lender will advance the money to the borrower and the borrower will repay it, failing which certain steps will be taken to enforce the security/charge on the borrower’s property.
No amount of pseudo legal gibberish will sidestep these fundamental terms of the mortgage agreement.
And the sooner the borrower recognises this, the sooner he might arrive at a solution or deal. He may also avoid needless legal costs on a course of action that is bound to fail when it is tested in court.
There are solutions available, don’t get me wrong. But those solutions are not to be found in half baked faux legal ideas smeared with a veneer of pseudo legal respectability. This is the equivalent of holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” and hoping it will go away. It won’t.
You need to, as Uriah Heep’s mother exhorted him in David Copperfield, “Uri, Uri, make terms”. In plain language, doing a deal may be the best option in the long run, and this will depend on the particular circumstances of the case.
But one thing is certain: relying on fake made up law and pseudo legal jargon will only make matters worse.