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Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People by Vanessa Van Edwards

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Written by a lady who claimed she had low conference but then proactively undertook social experiments to improve her skills and tries to share the learning. 

Starts off about events, points out that you shouldn’t go to events if you only feel obliged to.  There is popular advice to attend every invitation, however suggests that if you don’t actually like where you are going it will come across.  Suggests at a social event going to the end of the bar is the best place to speak to people who are ready to talk after they have just had their drink, as opposed to by entrance when people are dropping their coats off.  Ask the host to introduce you to some people, if you keep in their sight they will introduce you to more people.  Consider first acknowledging your friends then doing a lap to meet new people. 

Use lots of hand gestures and keep your hands visible.  Confidence is important, use good body language.

Avoid small talk, instead use unique talking points to create pleasurable and memorable conversations. Refers to this as ‘big talk’, you may see the person light up when you get a topic or ‘spark’ that interests them.  Ranked seven conversation starters, here they are in order of how interesting they were:

1. What was the highlight of your day?

2. What personal passion project are you working on?

3. Have anything exciting coming up in your life?

Below this these are the ones to avoid as they were ranked

4. What’s your story?

5. What brings you here?

6. What do you do?

7. How are you?

If nervous about asking conversation sparker, consider telling people, “I’m on a small-talk diet, can I ask you a new conversation sparker I’m trying out?” Suggests this gets a positive responses.

To provide good introductions:

1. Give people positive labels right at the start.

2. Tee up a great conversation and possible discussion topics that interest people involved.

3. Get people talking about themselves

A good introduction will produce a conversational spark.

It is known that similarities attract.  If you find differences try to find similarities.  Whatever you do if you don’t like something for example if they are interested in rock climbing don’t say you are not interested in it, instead look for search for commonalities.

If you are interested follow the thread with why? This question asked a few times can help obtain a deeper understanding.  If genuine connection developed in a conservation end this with “Can I help you with anything?”

Refers to decoding as about looking for the emotional intent behind the words.  People make microexpressions while they are talking and listening, their facial expressiveness is never “off.” Therefore pay consistent attention to someone’s face, this also enhances your time spent engaged in eye contact. Microexpressions last less than a second, cannot be controlled and present more accurate views into emotions. Look for congruency, checking if someone’s stated emotions match their visible emotions, do this by truly listen by hearing and looking.

There are several microexpressions which the book elaborates on:

Fear: marked by flat eyebrows with horizontal lines across the forehead.

Anger: marked by lowered eyebrows that are pinched together, two vertical creases in between the eyebrows, tensing of the lower eyelids, tightening of the lips—either pressed firmly together or in a position to yell

Contempt: marked by one-sided cheek lift, pulling up the right or left corner of the mouth

Happiness: marked by corners of the lips equally pulled up, possible lip parting with teeth visible, engaged upper cheek muscles, wrinkling along the sides of the eyes

Fear: marked by widened eyes, lifting of the upper eyelids, elevated eyebrows with horizontal lines in the centre of the forehead, slightly opened mouth. 

Surprise: marked by raised, rounded eyebrows, widened eyes, dropped-open jaw and intake of breath, tthe eyebrows are rounded like upside-down Us.

Disgust: marked by wrinkling of the upper nose, lifting of the upper lip, raising of the cheeks, tightening of the lower lid

Sadness: marked by corners of the eyebrows pinched together, drooping of the eyelids, puffing or pouting of the lower lip, pulling the corners of the mouth down into a frown

Note it can be misleading to interpret these from photos as sun blinding the person or the person trying to appear relaxed can interfere with their true expression.  

Five basic personality traits  (remembered as mnemonic OCEAN), these can be applied to a personality matrix:






Ask purposeful questions and watch for behavioural clues.


Possible Questions: Have any big vacations coming up? I just tried xxx for the first time. Have you ever done that? Tried any new restaurants lately?


Possible Questions: Have any big projects coming up? What’s the plan? Did you make any goals or New Year’s resolutions this year?


Possible Questions: Know anyone else here? What are you up to this weekend? What’s your ideal day look like?

People have dominant languages

Words of Affirmation

Physical Touch

Quality Time

Acts of Service


Decode what is there preference and use this with them.

Research found that the couples who used more “I, me, mine” had lower rates of relationship happiness and satisfaction than the couples who used more “we, our, us.”

When someone does a kindness for you, they are more likely to like you. This is dubbed the Franklin effect after Benjamin Franklin borrowed from a book from someone who didn’t like him at the time.  You take advantage of this by asking for advice or favours.

If someone is in difficulty think about Name, Understand, and Transform (NUT) to help them out of their difficulty, this helps you become their ally. 

Fear is often the underlying cause of apparently irrational behaviour.

Toxic people constantly throw you into Low Road survival mode. They push boundaries, challenge your worth, and can even turn thrive situations into survive ones by waking up your gremlins. Toxic people are not worth your energy.

Here are the 14 hacks the book recommends:

Hack #1: The Social Game Plan: When you say no to survive situations and embrace thrive situations, you encourage people to also interact in a way that works for them.

Hack #2: The Triple Threat: When you show up with trusting, confident body language, you inspire the people you are with to be more trusting and confident.

Hack #3: Conversational Sparks: When you break social scripts with conversation sparks, you engage your partner’s need to respond in kind—with more interesting, exciting tidbits.

Hack #4: Highlighter: When you highlight people’s strengths, you not only bring out the best in them, you also encourage them to see the best in you.

Hack #5: Thread Theory: As you search for threads of similarities, you inspire people to hop on the “me too” bandwagon.

Hack #6: The Decoder: As you tap into and respond to people’s true emotions, they are more incentivized to be direct and learn about yours.

Hack #7: Speed-Read: When you respect someone’s true personality orientation, you show how you would like to be treated.

Hack #8: The Appreciation Matrix: Finding the energy to appreciate someone on their terms teaches them how to truly care about someone—so they can return it to you in kind.

Hack #9: Primary Value: When you show someone you value them, they are more inclined to respect your primary value.

Hack #10: The Story Stack: The more great, witty, clever stories you share, the more people will want to tell you theirs.

Hack #11: Own It!: The more you empower others, the more they will see you as a leader.

Hack #12: The Franklin Effect: The more vulnerable you are, the more vulnerable people will be with you.

Hack #13: The NUT Job: Your calm and direct communication both calms the people you are with and shows them how to direct communication back to you.

Hack #14: Attunement: The more you show you are interested in someone, the more interested they will be in you.

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