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The Payoff of Paying Close Attention

Analogue marking is a powerful tool for persuasion



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When someone is telling a story, which parts of the story do you pay most attention to? Beyond your awareness, you are likely to be unconsciously directed by the speaker to pay closer attention to specific areas of the story — the spots where they place emphasis.

The storyteller may raise their voice, move their hand, or use a different tone for the most critical parts of their story, and this usually gets our subconscious attention. In fact, the same principle applies to the written word.

You probably noticed the word “parts” in the first sentence of this article since it is bolded. In the world of neuroscience, we call this emphasis analogue marking, and it’s a strategy that’s important to use in your day-to-day interactions as you become a better persuader.

Making the Subconscious Conscious

As a listener, you can benefit from bringing analogue marking into your conscious awareness. Some speakers analogue mark without realizing it, and it’s highly beneficial to pay attention to their cues. A memorable example is from a story about Milton Erickson, as a student, before he founded the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis. 

Apparently, during a series of lectures, Erickson paid special attention to the moments when his professor changed his tone, placed greater emphasis on certain details, and repeated himself. Many students would simply have heard the subtle changes in delivery without thinking further of their importance. 

Erickson made note of these changes in emphasis and, as part of his exam preparation, he only studied the specific material the professor had analogue marked.

After the exam, the professor confronted Erickson, accusing him of cheating. It turns out he had achieved an exceptionally high mark. That was how well Erickson was able to read his professor by understanding and paying attention to his use of analogue marking. 

He essentially knew which specific material would be on the exam based on how his professor had delivered the material. Erickson turned over his notes to prove to the professor that he had simply followed the teacher’s own unconscious cues. 

Essentially, Erickson was reading the professor’s “tells,” just as one would read an opponent during a poker game.

Erickson had a special talent for paying close attention to people. If you’d like to enhance your skills in this area, rest assured that active listening can be improved with practice. In time, you will consciously notice things that previously were only available to you on a subconscious level.

To begin, pay attention to:

  • Gestures and body language
  • The volume at which the person is speaking
  • The tone the person is using
  • The cadence of the person’s speech

The more that you practice paying attention to these subtle communication signals, the better you will be at identifying and making use of them. Eventually, you’ll become better at consciously leveraging your own style of analogue marking, which is a valuable persuasion tool.

Using Analogue Marking in Persuasion

Remember, you can analogue mark to place greater emphasis on some of the information you’re communicating and draw your audience’s attention to it. The same tactics apply as with learning to be an active listener. 

That is, you can analogue mark by changing your tone, increasing or lowering your volume, slowing or quickening your speech, or using a gesture. As any skilled orator will tell you, using an analogue mark is best done subtly. Even small changes will greatly impact people’s interpretation of your words.

Ask Questions Intentionally!

The questions that you ask yourself and others send the imagination on a quest. It’s all about understanding the usually subconscious implications of the kind of question you ask. For example, consider the difference between these two questions:

  1. Why are you dissatisfied?
  2. What would make you feel satisfied?

Ultimately, these questions engage and guide the imagination in very different directions, although one may initially think they have a similar intention. The first leads the listener’s imagination on a quest to search for supporting evidence around being disappointed. The second engages and guides the imagination in the direction of searching for fulfillment. 

We can also add another layer by applying analogue marking to our questions (as you see with the words that are bolded above) to further increase our influence at a subconscious level by emphasizing the desired state.  

Searching for an objective answer to a question? Start by finding a neutral way to phrase the question (or ask in several different ways). Keep in mind that, unlike a scientist, as a persuader you are intentional, rather than objective. You’re always working towards moving someone from their current state to the desired state. 

So, if you want someone to feel more satisfied, you’ll increase your influence by asking the question that sends their imagination on a search for satisfaction. You can also utilize analogue marking to highlight the instruction to feel satisfied

By phrasing and delivering the question this way, you are instilling thoughts in the other person, guiding them to feel more satisfied, empowering them to reframe their experience in a more positive way. Over time, these small, subtle changes in your language will add up.

Think, Act, Do

Analogue marking is a powerful tool for persuasion because it helps shift someone’s mindset, moving them towards the desired state, even when they are unaware of what you are doing. By paying more attention to other people’s subconscious analogue marking, you will set them in motion from thinking to then acting in the desired manner. 

Stephen McGarvey is an international speaker, an expert on persuasion and influence, and the founder of a boutique consulting firm, Solutions In Mind. He assists corporations and audiences around the world in solving difficult communications problems by guiding them on an engaging, fast-paced, fascinating journey inside the unconscious mind. His new book is the USA Today and Wall Street Journal #1 Best Seller  Ignite a Shift: Engaging Minds, Guiding Emotions and Driving Behavior (Morgan James Publishing, July 2022). Learn more at

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