Wikipedia describes Leonardo da Vinci as “an Italian painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer,” adding, “He is widely considered to be one of the greatest polymaths of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived.”
“Leonardo da Vinci” is an idea that is larger than life in our minds. But when I show you a photograph of the house in which he died, he becomes more of an actual human being.
That photo of the house is what I call a reality hook, a point of contact that connects the world of abstract imagination to the world of concrete fact.
You can buy a print of the Mona Lisa on Amazon.com for less than $10, and the image will be identical to the original. But the value of the original is beyond estimation because Leonardo da Vinci actually touched it.
An original work of art gives you a point of contact with the artist.
A historical artifact gives you a point of contact with a specific moment in time.
Understand this, and you understand the heart of every collector.
Just as Leonardo da Vinci became more “real” when you saw the house in which he died, he comes into chronological focus when I add the reality hook that Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus, and King Henry VIII all shared his lifetime. Leonardo becomes gut-wrenchingly real when I tell you that his diaries speak of a “gang of four” that raped him repeatedly when he was a boy.
Bam. Reality hook.
Stories and descriptions become more believable when you give them context.
There are four ways to create reality hooks:
1. Connect to something the reader/listener has already experienced. “Have you ever bought a car and then began to see cars like yours everywhere you went?”
2. Use terms of description that are specific and highly visual: shapes, colors, and the names of familiar things. “A man pulling radishes pointed my way with a radish.”
3. Include details that can be independently confirmed. The bits that can be confirmed lend credibility to those parts of your story that cannot be confirmed. “There’s a restaurant in Austin at 4th and Colorado called Sullivan’s. It was there that I met Kevin Spacey and Robert Duvall.”
4. Make logical sense. People are quick to believe things that seem correct, even when those things are not true: “If your advertising isn’t working, it’s because you’re reaching the wrong people.”
Reality hooks are the hammer, screwdriver, pliers, and duct tape of every salesperson and ad writer. You can use them to fix practically anything.
Reality hooks make presentations and stories more interesting. Here’s a good example from a TEDSalon talk that was filmed in front of a tiny little audience.
“The mortality rate for young men in society is six times what it is for young women, from violence and from accidents, just the stupid stuff that young men do. Jumping off of things they shouldn’t jump off of, lighting things on fire they shouldn’t light on fire, I mean, you know what I’m talking about. They die at six times the rate that young women do. Statistically, as a teenage boy, you would be safer in the fire department or the police department in most American cities than just walking around the streets of your hometown looking for something to do.”
— Sebastian Junger, Why Veterans Miss War
A million and a half people have chosen to watch Sebastian Junger’s 13-minute video in its entirety since it was posted in January 2014. And 13 minutes, as you know, is an eternity online.
Junger’s use of reality hooks is what makes his audience stay with him. Reality hooks will do the same for you.
Let’s look at how Junger used all four types:
1. Connect to something the listener has already experienced: “just the stupid stuff that young men do.”
2. Use terms of description that are specific and highly visual: “jumping off of things they shouldn’t jump off of, lighting things on fire they shouldn’t light on fire….”
3. Include details that can be independently confirmed: “The mortality rate for young men in society is six times what it is for young women, from violence and from accidents.”
4. Make logical sense: “Statistically, as a teenage boy, you would be safer in the fire department.”
Unsubstantiated claims — statements without reality hooks — are the reason your listeners remain unconvinced. Learn to insert reality hooks into everything you say, and you’ll close a higher percentage of your sales presentations, the ads you write will work better for your clients, and you’ll be able to bull**** your way out of awkward and embarrassing moments.
I added that last one just to see if you stayed with me all the way to the end.