I was sat in a boardroom with 10 global CEOs when I began to comprehend the power of pens, pencils and other writing paraphernalia.
I hadn’t yet discovered hypnosis or – importantly – revivification. But I knew something had ‘made its mark’ on me…
I’d been hired to do communications for a major conference, of sorts, for CEOs, leaders and change-makers in precisely a year’s time.
Someone in a leadership position felt moved to shake things up, communications wise – and threw down the gauntlet… of improving on The Pens.
I concentrated all my creative juices on just this task over the next 12 months and, eventually, struck gold. This time, we were doing (WAIT FOR IT…) pencils.
Some natural wooden pencils were procured to match the Scandi motif and were embossed with the conference name. I congratulated myself on my creative genius and cracked open a beer. My work here was done.
But then the man who wanted pencils had a crisis of confidence. Did we need pens after all? Could a clip be sourced to make the pencils more portable and, well, pen-like? All hell broke loose. What damage would pencils do to important men’s breast pockets? Precisely how long were the pencils? Did they have rubbers on the end? Etc.
But time – and branded stationery suppliers – as they say, wait for no man.
So I was sat in the boardroom with these 10 CEOs faced with what was generally agreed as my communications cock-up. There had been a big kerfuffle to find pencil pots AND sharpeners. And so I cringed at seeing the important men who run the world being continually inconvenienced by the need to sharpen my ruddy pencils.
There was, however, something endearing and school-boyish about this ritual. Round and round and round they went in those sharpeners. It was a powerful image.
Pencil-Gate drew* to a close. But I continued to observe people’s passions about pens and other writing accoutrements. (Seriously – my heart breaks for Brexit and the bad press the European Union got/gets about ‘bureaucracy’ when I see how difficult it is to even get consensus on notebook size and specifications from 60 of the smartest people on Earth.)
This led to an early hypnotic experiment in revivification, which I’d like to share.
There are two layers to it.
Firstly, we had an event convening executives (40s, from across geographies, accomplished) who’d met in person and virtually a few times, but who were still a little cool. There was insecurity about their resistance to the programme’s learning aspect. Stationery, as always, was needed, but I cooked up the idea of using branded pencil tins and other stationery to evoke that ‘back to school’ feeling, and to encourage receptiveness to learning on an open and level playing field.
Secondly, I had to sell the idea to a key decision-maker. This person was always time-poor, yet passionate about creative – she’d usually riff off my ideas until she’d a) killed what I’d put on the table and b) birthed seven new, often financially or practically implausible, ideas, which left me inspired yet paralysed.
But she had her Achilles heel: pens. So, rather than my usual impassioned speech on the creative concepts and their rationale and merits, I just marched into an in-progress meeting with printouts of the sexy concepts – plus the all-important Sharpie pens participants would get in their pencil tins.
Her face was a picture. She snatched up the coloured Sharpies I’d provided for her usual scribbles on concepts, happy as a clam. And, for the first time, I got concepts signed off as-is. No scribbles.
I only recently learned what revivification is, but since that moment I’ve shamelessly used stationery to evoke that school-kid excitement over picking out and populating a new pencil case, or refusing to write a uni essay until the perfect pen has been located. It is beautifully effective, and so easy and natural to bring up.
But, perplexingly, and despite showing how this works to colleagues, few utilise this set up. I particularly do this so that women can soften up high-status men who, perhaps, have preconceptions about what they can learn and from whom. I guess one of the reasons I started this blog is to help women see how they can use ‘manipulation’ tactics – but many consider it a no-no and clam up on me.
So, next time you’re at a shindig where there’s a moment people pull out notepads and pens, do me a favour and try using revivification to take them – literally – back to school.
(On that note, if you don’t already have conversation-worthy stationery, get some. Plus having a spare pen and pad is a sure-fire way to help out someone who’s forgotten theirs. I spent 10 years as a journalist without a pen, and made many – infinitely more organised – pals this way.)
You can have fun with cold reading, too. Back in the day, girls invariably collected novelty erasers or pencil sharpeners. While boys were no-nonsense – perhaps an extra-long pencil case for holding a 30cm ruler, plus a compass for stabbing and scratching things. So… “I bet you collected those novelty rubbers that smelled of fruit and sweets?” Or… “I bet your pencil case was one of those long ones, and there was a compass and a bunch of broken angle-rulers inside it.” Etc.
If you’re feeling bold, and maybe a bit flirtatious, you can cement rapport by conjuring up memories of defacing pencil cases/tins, books and desks with pens (or compasses). Either by swearing death on your enemies or declaring your love for the boy/girl in the year above.
Ooh! Do you remember the mathematical equation to work out what percentage someone loved you? Your wrote their full name and your full name, and ‘loves’ in between, and then counted the number of ‘Ls’, ‘Os’, ‘Vs’, ‘Es’ and ‘Ss’ in your collective names. Then you add each couple of numbers together until you get a double figure. For instance, ‘2, 1, 0, 3, 0’, becomes ‘3, 1, 3, 3’, becomes ‘4, 4, 6’, becomes ‘8, 10’, becomes ‘81’.
Imagine sitting next to someone on a course or whatnot and suggesting they love you 81% within five minutes of meeting them.
81%! You can’t argue with maths like that.
School days really are the best days of our lives. :-)
*God, I’m good.