Today’s encore selection — from Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Frank I. Luntz. As discussed by political advisor Frank Luntz, the sequential arrangement of information often creates the very meaning of that information:
“[In film when] two unrelated images are presented, one after the other, the audience infers a causal or substantive link between them. A shot of a masked killer raising a butcher knife, followed by a shot of a woman opening her mouth, tells us that the woman is scared. But if that same image of a woman opening her mouth is preceded by a shot of a clock showing that it’s 3 a.m., the woman may seem not to be screaming, but yawning. The mind takes the information it receives and synthesizes it to create a third idea, a new whole. …
“The essential importance of the order in which information is presented first hit home for me early in my career when I was working for Ross Perot during the 1992 presidential campaign. I had three videos to test: a) a Perot biography; b) testimonials of various people praising Perot; and c) Perot himself delivering a speech. Without giving it much thought, I’d been showing the videos to various focus groups of independent voters in that order-until, at the beginning of one session, I realized to my horror that I’d failed to rewind the first two videotapes. So, I was forced to begin the focus group with the tape of Perot himself talking.
“The results were stunning.
“In every previous focus group, the participants had fallen in love with Perot by the time they’d seen all three tapes in their particular order. No matter what the negative information I threw at them, they could not be moved off their support. But now, when people were seeing the tapes in the opposite order, they were immediately skeptical of Perot’s capabilities and claims, and abandoned him at the first negative information they heard. … I repeated this experiment several times, reversing the order, and watched as the same phenomenon took place. Demographically identical focus groups in the same cities had radically different reactions — all based on whether or not they saw Perot’s biographical video first and the third-party testimonials second (and were therefore predisposed and conditioned to like him) before or after the candidate spoke for himself.
“The language lesson: A+B+C does not necessarily equal C+B+A. The order of presentation determines the reaction.”
Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear
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