Thursday, July 4, 2019

Mass Manipulation: A Lesson In Rhetoric by Christopher Havens

I am a public speaker. I suppose it's an acquired taste... like onions. Only, I still hate onions. One of my biggest fears was going on stage and feeling the judgment of the crowd. In fact, the first time I spoke in front of a crowd, I froze... I heard snickering and crosstalk, which was undoubtedly causally related to my growing state of unease. ... cold fear liquefied my bowels to such a degree that the next word to escape my mouth was ... Sh!t. Everybody gasped. I was feeling a biblical degree of judgment. My lips moved to speak but instead, my bowels nearly did the speaking.. My next word was again, Sh!t... I had their undivided attention. I wasn't sure if they were tuned in to see if I might actually succeed or if it was just to see a colorful failure. 

It's failures like these that make us learn something if for no other purpose than not to suck at it quite so badly. Since then, I have given more speeches than I care to count. By my own standards, I am now good at it. Am I terrified of the judgment still? Lol. hell no. I realized that if I want to numb a sensation, then I can simply build a tolerance to it. So, after a few years of becoming okay at speaking, I decided to speak on topics designed to produce large quantities of judgment. I would say things and do things that would make them whisper to the people sitting next to them.. I had no shame. I will leave out most of the details, but suffice it to say that I am much better for the effort. 

After my long long period of judgment harvesting, I began experimenting on the crowd. If I do X, will it cause Y or Z? How about "what do I have to do to get Z to happen?" I began doing subtle things. ...how do I get an overly clappy crowd to ...not clap even after I walk off stage? That was a cool one. Or... how can I keep a crowd from laughing when they find something funny? How do I make them genuinely laugh at something definitely not funny? All of these were explored, some more than others. But my personal favorite is this.. 

How do I put a solemn crowd in precisely the right mood to receive my speech in the optimal manner? :-) It's built on fallacy. Just use the appeal to the people fallacy. People in groups become social followers. They always feel like they must adhere to the general mood, consensus, or whatever. They look left and right, seeing what the next person is feeling or thinking. Even in a solemn crowd.. Even so, there's a similar way, and just as easy. If you do something absurd, you take people out of their current thought process in an abrupt fashion. This is a perfect spot to insert the "new" mood. For example... and this actually happened, I was giving a speech in a crowd of about 50. Everyone was in an "already bored from the previous humdrum" mood. My speech was supposed to be humorous. Unfortunately, I seen that the crowd was going to be tough to get started. So I began speaking.. I spoke for about a minute and I stopped. Like a cocker spaniel, my attention snapped to the rabbit in the meadow.. everyone thought I forgot my speech... it got real quiet. (this was me grabbing their attention and resetting their mood to susceptible). From there, I walked, with a purpose, to a random unexpecting victim (in this case, it was Ruth). I stood directly behind her.. Ruth became nervous from awkwardness. Next, I slowly crouched down and, with my face uncommonly close to her shoulder, I took a very long sniff, from the bottom of her hair to the top of her head. Ruth was frozen. The crowd was my bitch at that point. I offered Ruth a sniff, out of courtesy, and she declined by shaking her head with very tight lips and wide eyes. The crowd was bursting into laughter. That was my queue. I then walked back on stage and picked up precisely where I left off, as if it never happened. 

The art involved was that the crowd thought I was experiencing catastrophic failure, which I happened to know that crowds love. This impending failure opens them to whatever mood you choose to give them. I just chose to do something absurd because absurdity works nice with humor. Anyway.. moral of the story is that you should not hope to PUT somebody in a mood by delivering a speech. Rather, PUT them in the mood first, and then deliver the speech. You'll be a hit!

Christopher 

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