You shuffle to the front door and open it. An autumn thunderstorm blew through while you slept, bringing frigid air with it. You are surprised to see a young woman in a peasant top and floral pencil skirt standing at your doorstep. She’s drenched to the bone.
“My goodness, are you okay?” you say.
“Hi,” she says, “I’m fine.” She extends her hand. You take it. It is a firm grip. “I’m Madeline,” she says.
She looks over her shoulder. A tall man wearing a black button up oxford and white tie nods from the sidewalk. He’s leaning on an umbrella.
She then looks you square in the eye and says, “Are you ready for the end of the world?”
You shake your head, clear your throat, lean forward. “Eh, pardon me?” You suddenly think you might be dreaming. That your brain is punishing you for having engorged on fried fish.
She doesn’t flinch. “Are you ready for the end of the world? It is coming.”
“Really?” you say. “When?”
She shrugs. “Soon.” She then launches into how you should prepare, even as you shut the door.
In another version of this story she says, “In the next five years.”
You chuckle, belch a wee bit of chardonnay. “Yeah, the way the economy is going, that doesn’t surprise me, ” you say, closing the door. Five years is still ambiguous. It does nothing to dispel doubt.
But it’s this next version of this story that gets your attention. This time she says, “Three months from now. On October 29, 2015. Seven-o-five in the evening. In Munster, Indiana.”
Whether you believe her or not, she’s at least got your attention. At the minimum you’ll ask her how she came to that conclusion. See, it’s not so easy to dismiss someone when they are precise with details.
In what’s known as the strategic use of evidence, lawyers and criminal investigators can often discover if a suspect is lying. Here’s how it works.
During interrogation the investigator asks the suspect a general question. If the suspect replies with a fuzzy answer that contradicts what the investigators already know to be true, then the suspect is probably lying.
However, if the suspect shares details that match what the investigator already knows, then the suspect is probably telling the truth. The specificity of his answer builds credibility.
The moral of the story is to be ultra-specific in your headlines, testimonials, stories, offers. Add facts, research, quotes, and numbers. Be clear and concise. If there are vague or estimated numbers, you’ll look suspect or like you’re fudging.
Steer clear of ambiguity. And if you are curious about situations where specificity might get you in trouble, read this article by Chris Garrett.
Part of this article originally appeared in this Salesforce article (which I am told by a source close to the company is their most socially popular post).
P.S. You can listen to an audio version of this article on my old podcast Rough Draft?