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The Mayonnaise Speech
Some people will never be persuaded. Spend your effort on other people.

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I hate mayonnaise. Couldn’t hate it any more than I do. If it’s on my burger I won’t eat it, if it’s in a dish I won’t taste it, and if it’s anywhere on my plate I’ll demand a new one. I’m off to dinner this weekend with a new friend and her family. The text last night said, “I’m planning the meal. Is there anything you’re allergic to?” My reply: “Nothing. But, please, no mayonnaise.”

Friends have tried to talk me into mayo. What is it you don’t like, the flavor? The texture? The smell? You're fine with ketchup and mustard. You must try mayonnaise again.

There is no rational explanation for it. I hate mayonnaise the way God hates sin. I can’t be talked into it and I never will be, a river of reasons be damned.

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You wonder why this or that piece doesn’t move the needle? It’s the same idea. On any given matter, some people’s minds are made up and are not subject to change. 

Every audience has some plurality of people who feel this way about whatever you’re addressing. All the reasons in the world won’t budge them.

Why am I dedicating an entire essay to this? To save you time and effort.

If you believe you can convince everybody, you're wrong.

You're just keep piling on the facts until you’ve turned off the people you convinced in the first place, and the stubborn ones won't be any closer to changing their minds.

Don’t imagine that more facts will move people. If three or four examples don’t work, five or six won’t, either. Think about your own decision-making. Past a certain point, volume doesn’t matter, and that point comes early.

Your next thought may be that this kind of person is just being difficult, but that's not the case. As writers, speakers, and would-be persuaders, we have to be mindful of what most of the world doesn't know and won't accept: reason isn't everything. (Even the process and product of reason varies from person to person. We all have different bases of knowledge and engage in different depths of analysis.) But this is all shorthand for the fact that we are influenced profoundly by emotion and instinct. You may be working on a matter for which your target just has a gut feeling in the other direction. They can’t tell you why, but they’re not going to change for you, either. Like me and the mayonnaise. 

Piling on more examples rarely helps. People are driven more by feeling more than fact.

Knowing this will help you decide which battles to continue and which to abandon. When I’m writing for someone who insists on piling on “just one more” example or fact when they already have plenty, I explain the diminishing returns of added volume. But if they still want to add evidence, I won’t push back too hard. Not everyone is willing to accept that persuasion is not an exercise based mostly in reason. That includes my ability to persuade them how to best persuade an audience.

Some opinions are firm. Accept it and go on. If your audience hates mayonnaise, quit serving it. There's bound to be somebody out there who wants it. Go find them. 


Mike's Calendar
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Proposal Writing Series Engingeering Firm November Washington, DC
European Festival of Political Rhetoric European Speechwriters Network Nov 6-27 Online

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