How To Communicate Incoherently

Monday, 6:56pm
Reno, NV
“When we remember we are all nuts, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” Mark Twain (sorta)


Have you seen my partner Stan’s first information video?

I think you need to see it, if you’re interested in mastering communication (which is the life-blood of selling lots and lots of stuff).

Personally, I find his video fascinating. He’s getting a ton of feedback on it, and we just spent an hour on the phone talking about it. One guy sent him such a personal email that Stan called him… not to argue, but to get the background story on why the guy had the opinion he had.

It was a calm conversation, Stan tells me… yet, at first, it was like sharing a bench on the fourth floor of the Tower of Babel. Each person was saying something important, but mere words didn’t seem to be able to get any points across.

I’m laughing my ass off over this as Stan tells the tale.

Cuz this is all about communication… and for the 25 years I’ve known Stan, we are constantly bickering about who said (or didn’t say) what, and who’s right and who’s a miserable toad for being so wrong.

It’s the foundation of our friendship.

Remember Star Trek? Stan’s like Spock, only with a sense of humor (and a taste for jazz and good beer). Very, VERY logical, and impatient with people who process info in illogical ways.

Like, oh… me, for instance.

Drives him frigging bonkers.

And I’d have to say I’m like Captain Kirk… not a “leader” as in the highest ranking dude, but rather the guy who gleefully drags everyone else on another risky, dangerous, futile yet emminently exciting adventure.

(Side note: Did you know that — in the original Star Trek — whenever an unidentified member of the crew transported down to a new planet with Spock and Kirk… he would be killed in some horrible and gruesome manner before the next commerical break? The character was named “Ensign Expendable” — and he was doomed to be a mere plot device every single time, without even a line of dialog except “Aaaaagh!“…)

(I wonder if any Trekkies go to a Star Trek convention as Ensign Expendable? I’ll tag this blog, and see if any Trekkies log on with an answer…)


Communicating with another human being is never simple.

If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, walk away. They’re dangerously wrong.

In a broad sense, the population is roughly divided into 3 categories of cognitive processing:

1. Left-brain thinking (very logical and concrete)…

2. Right-brain thinking (very creative, “out of the box” worldview)… and…

3. No-brain thinking.

That third category, unfortunately, dominates the world. Id-driven thugs rule with brute, unthinking force all over the map. They of course need logical assistants to run things, and right-brain creatives to write their speeches… but the final decisions rest with the knucklehead.

The first folks to get hung in any revolution are the smart ones, you know.

The triumph of modern democracy rests on the First Amendment, with its guaranteed protection of free speech (and, implied, free thought as well). We take it for granted… but most of the rest of the world enjoys no such freedom.

So the upside of life in the US is that everyone gets to talk freely to each other.

The downside… is that few of us actually know HOW to talk to another human so we’re understood.

(Quick tip: One of the fundamentals of becoming a great salesman is best explained in the classic “How To Win Friends And Influence People” — also called “the salesman’s bible.” The most important skill in that book is listening… and rephrasing what you just heard back to the other guy. This is proof that you listened… and processed what you heard. And this will astonish anyone you use it on… because everyone else isn’t listening at all — they’re just waiting impatiently until they can interupt to stress their point, regardless of what the other guy has said.)

All master salesmen are master communicators. As a copywriter, I knew I’d turned a corner in my career when I could take a complex situation… and explain it in two or three paragraphs in such an obvious way, it was hard to remember why it seemed so complex before.

Your Number One Job as a marketer… is to get your point across.

Your job is NOT to be “right”.

It’s to get your point across so it’s UNDERSTOOD by the other guy.

In Transactional Analysis, there’s a situation called “Gotcha!” This occurs when one guy explains something in ways that are perfectly clear to him… using facts, figures, statistics, anecdotes, stories, whatever… and… when the other guy doesn’t understand, and screws up…

… then the first guy gets to claim status as the “dude who should be listened to, goddamn it.” He gets to yell “gotcha — I TOLD you what would happen (or how it was supposed to work)… and you just wouldn’t listen.”

It’s a sick, sick game.

In business, you don’t “win” if you were right… but no one understood WHY you were right, and thus did not buy.

As a consultant, I am constantly faced with having to explain to a client — in simple terms, and calmly so I don’t startle him — that he’s been selling the wrong thing, in the wrong way… and that’s why sales suck.

I always get the same argument back: But these are the FACTS. It IS a great product, and…

Of course, what he’s usually doing is tossing boring features around, unmoored to any thrilling benefits that could help a prospect “feel” like buying.

It’s hard to sell your own stuff. We all have a natural tendency to burrow too deep into our own box, where we gulp our own Kool-Aid while wearing blinders. (I think I just won the Best Mixed Metaphor award there.)

This is why top salesmen — and top copywriters — are so sought after. We’re the modern wizards, craftily seeing through fog and making sense out of nonsense.

And yet…

… sometimes I meet my match.

Stan and I often have a disturbing recurring conversation. He will insist he’s told me something at least 3 different times, in 3 different ways. And he’s right — the man is honest to a fault, and sees no point in exaggerating. If he says he did somethng, he did it.

That’s a fact.

And yet, I will insist back that (a) I have zero memory of him telling me anything remotely like that… and (b) I nevertheless do not understand what it is he’s trying to communicate to me.

So, he told me, and I never heard it.

If either of us were lesser mortals, one of us would have murdered the other long ago.

However, our mutual respect is so deep, that we take all criticism seriously. I may not understand why Stan is arguing with me over some point… but the mere fact that he IS arguing means I need to pay attention and figure it out.

This is important.

Both of us are MASTER communicators. I’ve earned fortunes using my communication skills to sell massive worlds of stuff to skeptical, miserly hordes of customers. And Stan was a consultant so skilled in communicating the vagaries of software and “process analysis” to large corporations (including Cisco Systems, Wells Fargo, Exxon, and even NATO in Europe) that — for 20 years — he was among the most sought-after and highly-paid “gurus” of that essential corner of the information age.

Top of our games, both of us.

And yet we still bicker and argue over every detail of our entrepreneurial adventures.

There’s a lesson here for all of us.

First: Never assume that because YOU understand something… everyone else should, too.

It ain’t so.

Second: The fastest and easiest way to learn just how far off you are in communicating your message… is to ask for questions.

My pal Alex Mandosian perfected the “Ask Campaign” years ago online, as a way to determine exactly what needed to be addressed in any clear sales message. And you could do it before the product was even created. You just explain what you intend to do, and ask for feedback.

Before the Web, this would be a tangled process that could take months or longer. And cost an arm and a leg.

However, with email, the Internet, and all the other hyper-fast communication channels now in our toolkit, you can get an astonishing thorough FAQ (frequently asked questions) page functioning and providing info almost immediately.

And get this: I’ve never met a marketer who did this… who was not blown away by the questions people were asking. This is an almost unfair advantage — each question that comes up more than once represents an objection that can KILL sales for you unless it is countered.

So you will never be blindsided.

Knowing what prospects are actually thinking… instead of guessing (or, worse, relying on your own feeble idea of what someone “needs” to know to be persuaded to buy)… allows you to own the greatest “cheat sheet” imagineable as you create your sales message.

This cheat sheet will point out every hole in your original argument… allowing you a chance to correct misunderstands and obliterate potential un-met objections.

Result: Instant hero. Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.

Third: Still, you gotta start someplace… even to begin acquiring questions.

This is where communication pro’s shine. Cuz we don’t rely on logic — we have nurtured and honed our peculiar right-brain tools to create something out of thin air, using vague blueprints that only we can see.

And here’s a secret tip: It’s all about SIMPLIFICATION.

Unraveling the complex, so it’s easy to understand.

Stan, for example, is easily among the smartest dudes I’ve ever met. You could lop fifty points off his IQ, and he’d still be smarter than you and me combined. (Okay, that’s a right-brain exaggeration, but I’m making a point here.)

However, all that brain wattage can be a handicap at times. I’ve learned how to “hear” him over the years — as part of my quest to be able to “hear” everyone I know (including the wacko’s, the geniuses, the dumbfucks, the agenda-driven, and the devious).

So, while he’s constructing a logically correct structure of related tangents, plus essential points that must be retained until the end of the explanation, all buffetted by blindingly-unassailable facts (facts!)… I’m doing my best to “catalog” everything according to the somewhat scattered, very intuitive and non-logical filing system in MY head.

Man, it can be a challenge.

But it’s also one of the best lessons in pure communication I’ve ever encountered.

What I do… and what I believe Stan has picked up from me (and is using more and more when dealing with us “lightweight creative-type brainiacs”)… is BREAK IT ALL DOWN.

This is a killer tactic for copywriters and for any salesman trying to communicate more than one or two points with a target audience.

The easiest method: Just enumerate each point. One, then two, then three, then on to four, five, six and beyond.

But keep each numbered point “pure” — don’t clutter it up with other points, or sub-points, or tangents, or anything else.

Stay focused on explaining a single piece of the puzzle at a time. Forget about “tying it all together” until after you’ve covered each point, individually.

Top copywriters know that a sale can be triggered by a SINGLE bullet point (even when that one bullet is nestled among dozens of others in your sales piece).

And you can almost never predict WHICH bullet it will be. Could be a different bullet for each buyer. (If you discover it’s a specific bullet behind most sales, then you’ve discovered the headline of your next piece. Lucky you.)

Breaking things down into easy-to-understand points takes away all the complexity. Even if you end up with 999 separate points… which is how you’d break down something VERY complex, like building a gas-powered internal combustion engine from scratch… if you make each step easy-to-understand, you can walk a rookie all the way through.

But you can screw it up, too.

Let’s take skipping rocks.

You would be criminally over-simplifying the process if you said “Dude, just throw a rock across the water so it skips.”

That may explain it to YOU, who already is experienced in skipping. But it’s incoherent to someone else. You’ll frustrate them, and frustrate yourself.

Try this:

1. Find a smooth, flat stone.
2. Throw it sidearm, so the arc of your toss is more-or-less level with the surface of the water.
3. Aim for calm water to minimize “bumps”.

If you follow this advice, you’ll skip a rock. It may only be one or two skips, but you’ll skip.

In fact, even if you screw up the first point, and use an uneven, round, jagged rock… you’ll still make it sorta skip if you throw it sidearm onto flat water.

Now… if you want to skip multiple times (phtt, phtt, phtt, phtt)… then you’ll want to go deeper into this basic explanation. Why a smooth, flat stone? To reduce friction. Why sidearm? So the contact of stone and water surface is gradual…

And so on.

You gotta see Stan’s first video.

First, he’s such a likeable, funny guy… that it’s startling when you realize the brain power under that gleaming bald dome.

Second, the logic of his presentation is unassailable.

And third… well, I want to hear what you think.

People are responding in all kinds of ways… from the cryptic “nod”, to outrage, to total and fulfilling satisfaction. And that’s just those responses he’s told me about.

It’s his first video. He’ll be doing dozens more, just this business cycle, and we’re both feverishly studying the “craft” of delivering great video. (And I’ll be sharing what I learn here… and I’m learning from the guys at the cutting edge of the form… so listen up.)

He’s no longer a “video virgin”. I think it’s a great learning experience to see how this guy — who communicates so effectively with certain types — makes his case to a broad swath of the population… including people he’d rather strangle. (Thousands will be exposed to this video before the night is over.)

The subject: How a Dutch auction works… and the specific strategy for winning that you don’t know about yet.

The stakes are incredibly high: As you should know by now, I’m offering a one-of-a-kind hands-on, super-interactive workshop on copywriting in San Francisco on May 2-4. I’ll be personally teaching 20 people the exact step-by-step process I go through while writing anything that has to sell stuff. (This “checklist” is the foundation to ALL of my success over the years.)

However… we’re not selling seats at a set price. There is a strict limit of 20 spots available, because I’m doing so much hands-on, personal teaching, that I can’t handle even one more person.

And those 20 spots are being offered in a Dutch auction.

Yep — you get to bid on getting in. You have a hand in setting the attendance fee at whatever you believe is fair. And EVERYBODY’S got an equal shot at winning.

It’s created a buzz in the industry.

This is important. The Dutch style auction is the OLDEST and most proven way of finding a price through an auction.

Yet, it’s the least used today.

Warren Buffett — the brilliant investor who has been one of the global economy’s wealthiest men for decades — uses it. “Insiders” in the high-end auction world completely understand it.

But most Americans have never encountered it before. We’re used to the other two types — where a motor-mouth auctioneer brow-beats an audience into coughing up dough (and there’s only one winner)… and the standard eBay style auction, where the goal is to swoop in last with a winning bid that barely beats everyone else.

The Dutch auction is different. And if you try to win one of the 20 seats we’re offering with a strategy of swooping in at the last minute… you’ll lose.

Stan explains the process in his video.

To see it, go here:

He’s posted it in the right-hand column.

I’d love to hear what you think. So would Stan.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Almost forgot — while the actual seminar is May 2-4… the Dutch auction (where all available seats will be bought) is over this Thursday, April 10, precisely at 2pm Eastern Time. (That’s 11am Pacific, for the time-zone challenged, like me.)

Every seat will sell out — there are already more bids than seats available. However, who wins each of the top 20 spots will not be determined until the bidding stops on Thursday.

So strategy matters.

Check out Stan’s explanatory video.

P.P.S. On a more sobering note…

… tomorrow (April 8th) is the anniversary of the death of my great friend, former partner, and long-time mentor Gary Halbert.

His sons, Bond and Kevin (also good friends of mine), and I have been in constant contact over this past year (while they cobble together Gary’s legacy, and get his website current again).

However, the trauma of Gary’s sudden and totally unexpected passing made that period of time a year ago very disjointed for me.

I actually did not remember the exact day — it was just part of a jumbled week or so of grief and shock. (Bond reminded me just today that tomorrow is the anniversary.)

It’s still a raw spot in my heart… and I plan on spending tomorrow in my own way, paying a private homage to a great man and a friend I shall miss forever.

I will, however, post something about Gary this week.

Just not tomorrow.

Not tomorrow.

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"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • Kip Lytle says:

    We miss you Gary.

  • Coyote says:

    Incidentally, the term the trekkers and other fans use for Ensign Expendables is “Red-Shirts.” Because that was the tunic color for the security team members. And it’s a term used amongst us geeks for anybody in an expendable or dangerous position – like the term, “Cannon Fodder.”

  • Glyn says:

    I would love to watch Stan’s video, but I can’t find it on the site. But then again I might not be understanding what you are telling me…..
    Any chance of a URL, please

    JOHN CARLTON REPLIES: Hi Glyn. Go to, and scroll down to where the right-hand column ends. Stan’s video is titled “Winning Auction Strategies”.

  • Spock says:

    Spock here –
    Posted a second auction strategy video. Cut 20 minutes off the first. Down to 6 minutes. Just the 2 key strategy and “what does this mean” tips. No space aliens giving you the finger, but something had to go.

  • In this confusing and incoherent world it must be
    a great benefit to have the gift to communicate
    with maximum cohenerence in minimnum time without
    confusing anybody. Trekkies like to be called
    Trekkers but understand that everybody else
    is confused by the terminologies of StarTrek. This
    is the most coherent answer to the question.
    To avoid any confusion read the above again and
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  • “Your Number One Job as a marketer… is to get your point across.

    Your job is NOT to be “right”.

    It’s to get your point across so it’s UNDERSTOOD by the other guy.”

    I am going to print this paragraph and post it to my favorite “love-to-hate-you” marketers who spend my precious minutes explaining very logically why the company’s rules and guidelines prevents them from selling their stuff to me… Just fantastic.

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