How to Persuade People Who Don't Want to be Persuaded by Joel Bauer & Mark Levy
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2004)
Do "self-help" books ever really help anybody other than those who write and sell them? I doubt it. I can't think of a more unpleasant category of reading. But it seems hard to underestimate the appetite Americans have for such dross, and few have gone broke feeding it. Imagine if the entire purchasing public of diet books actually got it through their heads that all weight-reduction and weight gain is based on the relationship between calories in and calories out, and there is, frankly, little more to learn be-yond acceptance of that simple fact, and the recommended addition of some exercise. Yet one must wonder at the staggering numbers of those who manage to infinitely repackage that single sentence of information, put it between hard covers with a snappy title, and continue to reap the dollars that result from the endless con game.
Of course, one of the basic rules of self-help literature is to take ordinary ideas that can be readily described with ordinary language and, in the absence of any new ideas, invent new jargon to make it sound different. To paraphrase Erdnase: The resourceful marketeer, failing to improve the product, changes the label. Thus we are faced here with a book that claims to tell us how to persuade when in fact it tells us nothing of the sort. Rather it tells us how to sell—be it ourselves or, more readily, our service or product and renames a slender list of utterly traditional sales and marketing techniques for doing so.
At least one of the authors of this book is supremely well qualified for such a bait-and-switch tactic another ancient sales technique since Joel Bauer (author of the aptly titled Hustle, Hustle) is the hard-working and successful trade-show magician who managed to take a case to television court about the ethics of the Masked Magician while he also marketed a commercial video of a torn-and-restored news-paper method that was not only not of his own origination, but in which he looked out into the camera and dismissed the importance of the very idea of crediting. How's that for a good trick? Now, I ask you: Is this guy qualified to write a self-help book? No more calls please, we have a winner!
Now if Mr. Bauer and his co-author, Mark Levy (a book distributor and writer who is also an amateur magician) had called their book How To Do A Few Simple Magic Tricks And Puzzles And Maybe Help Sell Yourself Or At Least Learn To Be A Bit Of A Better Conversationalist, their book probably wouldn't sell as well as this version might, but at least you'd know just about everything you need to know about the contents. Of course, given the aforementioned rules about creating new jargon to conceal old ideas (cults, by the way, are also fond of this technique), these are not tricks and puzzles, these are rather "transformation mechanisms." Really! No kidding! And what are some of these "transformation mechanisms?" Well, the first one is a "magazine test"—David Hoy's magazine test, to be precise, which is credited in these pages, albeit that Mr. Bauer's pet peeve about exposure is not addressed. Perhaps if you don't have a bag over your head, exposure is okay. Not that I care very much about that, mind you, but for a guy who went to court over the issue, you'd think it might be of some concern to him. Anyway, most of these other "transformation mechanisms" man, I just love writing and saying that, you should try it, it's fun look oddly familiar, the terminology notwithstanding, like breaking a pencil with a dollar bill, putting your head through a business card, balancing a coin on a dollar bill, and other such crap culled from kid's magic books and bar bet collections.
Like any good pitchman and potential cult leader, the book includes no shortage of faulty logic: for example, the notion that beer producers sell millions of dollars' worth of beer is offered as assumed proof of the effectiveness of advertising, when in fact it's safe to assume that people would buy beer with or without ads; the issue of advertising can only be considered substantively if you make comparisons between the sales of different competitors, relative to their respective advertising programs but this idea requires thought, critical thinking, and facts, and these are not elements high on the hit list of this book's contents. Like any good pitchman and potential cult leader, good questions are dealt with dismissively, and snidely at that: following a lengthy discourse on the alleged difference between a "transformation metaphor" and a "body metaphor," Mr. Bauer recounts how someone once asked him a question trying to pin down the differences between them, to which he offers the spectacularly lame response that "His feedback was well meaning, but unnecessary." But perhaps "undesirable" is more like it in this instance, because when someone questions your method for counting the number of angels on the head of a pin, you don't want them questioning your math. But the author is at least partly right: rational questions are rendered unnecessary by the fact that it's all useless and pointless self-promoting nonsense to begin with, provided mostly to give the author an ancillary item to sell at the end of his speaking engagements. The fact is that these elaborate terms are inanities: the case at hand is all about the difference between doing a lame trick with your body instead of with a prop. There, that was hard to describe, huh? We need new words for the likes of this? Since when does this require any sort of label or term whatsoever in the course of normal conversation between intelligent humans? The answer is never; it's only necessary when you're trying to sell something.
And if you don't know the decades-old basics of selling selling benefits instead of features, how to meet objections, how to close the sale well then, I guess you can learn it here, if you can navigate through the muck of jargon and other smokescreens. But if you want to learn something about how to sell yourself as a corporate "pitchman" the most accurate and truthful term that Mr. Bauer does use in this book, along with all the other piles of horse manure he shovels in the name of pretending to explain his profession then this might be a valuable book for you. Here you will gain insights into how Mr. Bauer sells himself to prospective trade show clients. There is very little here about how to actually perform in a trade show setting that's not the subject of this book but this is actually just a basic book about sales, and selling yourself, and since selling trade shows is what the lead author really does know about, there is some-thing here to be learned in that narrow scope. And if you don't mind being a salesman every waking public hour of the day, every time you speak with another person, then this is the plan for you and as such, it will be equally useful to aspiring Amway, Avon, and Tupperware salespeople as well. May you all bore yourselves to team together while laughing your way to the bank.