Indian Basket Trick is probably the world's oldest recorded illusion. For those who don't know it, the trick involves a wicker basket and two assistants. The first assistant, a typically young boy, is put into the basket. Once inside it, the performer will then put sharp swords through the basket. The trick culminates with the assistant seemingly reappearing behind the amazed crowd, completely unharmed.

This trick is, of course, very simple to pull off. The swords are always put into pre-arranged places. This means that as long as the boy doesn’t move around, he is perfectly safe. But what about him appearing behind the crowd? It is the second assistant. If you watch the trick from the distance, it is very hard to pick out a boy’s physical features or remember them. The fact your attention is occupied with the trick itself furthers the effect.

Despite its simplicity, the trick remains one of the most popular acts amongst stage magicians. It is simple, sure, but so are many other popular tricks. As any stage magician knows, the power of the act comes from the presentation. Even the simplest trick looks amazing to a casual observer if you can perform it smoothly. To put it simply, magic is all about making things look more important than they really are.

This course is also about magic. Not the ordinary kind of magic, but the magic of making people want to do what you tell them to do. It is all about revealing what people in power are really doing to get your money, get your vote, and in most extreme cases, get you to die for them. For an outside observer, many of the tricks they employ look incomprehensible. However, as you will soon discover most of them are like the Indian Basket Trick. Very simple things that are made to look more complicated than they are.

If this would be an ordinary course on persuasion, my next step should be to paint myself as some sort of mysterious guru. Someone who has access to secret knowledge no mortal knows, and who has an almost otherworldly quality to him. A true master whose heights you can’t ever reach. While I agree that would be perfect for marketing purposes, this isn’t that kind of course. The reality is somewhat different.

I'm a slightly overweight weirdo with a bad hair-do and questionable taste in clothes. But ah, maybe that is a part of the trick! Maybe I am just trying to make you believe that I'm just an average schmuck. No. I’m just an average engineer type who decided more than a decade ago to learn to sell himself as well as possible.

To achieve this goal, I had read countless books. I had attended numerous seminars around the world. I interviewed the best people I could find. Leaving no stone unturned, my quest would often lead off the beaten path. It would lead me to study numerous topics, ranging from sales to psychology, from copywriting to politics, from mentalism to method acting.

However, after few years of doing this, I realized many of the things I had learned were impractical. They were either too complex, imprecise, or cumbersome to be used in real-life situations. The more I studied psychology and neuroscience, the even more unpleasant picture started to emerge. Many of the things I had taken for granted didn’t even work! Sure, they certainly sounded good, but they suffered from confirmation bias. Everyone, including me, had been fooled by a stage magician who made the things look more important they were.

Based on this realization, my focus shifted to streamlining my approach. I would take everything I had learned and simplifying what I could. What I couldn’t streamline would find itself in a trash can. This process would go and on until several years later, I would distill my special brand of pure 100-percent sales moonshine. Nothing superficial. Nothing artificial. Only the purest and most effective ingredients available. How proud I was.

However, when I started to teach my material, reality struck. My first realization was that many people don’t know what they want. They would tell me they want to learn influence, but after showing them a few things, they would typically leave disappointed. Why? Because in their fantasies, personal influence is about secret knowledge, global conspiracies, and brainwashing techniques. What they really wanted was blatant displays of power that allow them to take someone’s free will and make them do their bidding.

However, as anyone worth his salt knows, that is not how real-life works. The maximum level of influence comes from things of maximum subtlety. There was just such a wide disconnect between what these people imagine I was doing and what I am really doing. They were disappointed that whatever “magic trick” they were expecting was much simpler than they had thought.

The second thing I realized is that it was too much. I had been studying and practicing influence for so long that it had become a full-time job for me. My average student, on other hand, had a 9-5-day job, family, and hobbies. They didn’t have time, energy, or desire to learn the advanced technique. What they really wanted was a few simple, but effective strategies to enhance their everyday performance. And what even is advanced anyways? Is it a technique so complex that it takes years to master it? Or is the true sign of mastery being able to teach something that anyone can pick up and immediately get results?

Based on these realizations, I started to write this course. A small course that claims it’s able to teach you everything you need to know about personal influence in less than 68 000 words. For reference, that is roughly a 200 page paperback. But can any course really do that? Not really, but you can get pretty darn close to it. The trick for doing this is to go straight to the root. This book is all about teaching you guiding principles of personal influence. If you follow these fundamental principles, everything you say or do will be naturally far more persuasive.

Granted, these principles aren’t most dramatic, scientific, or glamorous around. That is not what makes them great. They are great because they are some of the simplest, easiest, and most natural things to grasp. Most of these principles are so intuitive that anyone can immediately pick them up and use them to achieve results. And under the right circumstances, they can have an unsettlingly powerful effect. This is because all of them focus on our base needs such as attention, love, and control. These principles are all about winning the heart of your opponent, not their mind.

But let’s make one thing clear. Some of the principles you learn in this course are manipulative. There is no doubt about it. However, as it will become quickly evident, many of them have become pillars upon which our societies have been built upon. All societies are striving towards some higher ideal, but everything they do relies on their ability to keep their citizens content. An important aspect of that is managing their mood through subtle manipulation. From uniting the tribes against a common enemy to presenting the impossible as achievable, you can see examples of these principles all around you.

Yet despite their ubiquitous nature, we haven't had an honest discussion about these techniques. Critics often represent them as all evil. They claim that we should stop doing anything that could be even slightly perceived as manipulative. Yet these principles aren’t more than a wrench. It depends on the person using and their intentions what the result will be.

Then we have the experts. Despite being one myself, I am constantly frustrated by how we needlessly complicate things and fail at conveying our ideas to the masses. While we mean well, we are often way too oblivious to our flaws. We have often failed to contribute to a discussion in a way that would help the public see the problems these techniques raise.

Finally, we have the fool. The fool is a creature that believes none of these things exist. He believes that falling for these techniques and principles is simply a weakness of the mind. Yet for some strange reason, he falls for them constantly, completely unaware of when it happens. He recites the latest conspiracy theories and spreads fake news without realizing all of them specifically tailored to appeal to his base weaknesses.

Even worse, the critic, the expert, and the fool are often the same person! The result of this is harrowing. Some of the most abusive, blatant, and corrupted applications of these principles go completely unpunished. At the same time, we have many well-meaning individuals that reject anything that could be perceived even remotely manipulative. Still, for all their hard work, they have achieved only minimal results, and sometimes their actions do more harm than benefit for their cause.

So, as much as this course is intended as a practical how-to guide, it is also intended to stir conversation. We can’t move to the 2020s without having an honest discussion about the merits and cons of exerting influence on a large scale. I believe we have reached a point where we need to that or the results will be disastrous to the mental wellbeing of our citizens. That discussion must start from all parties understanding what the heck is going on, and education, as it often is, is the key.

How to Study this Course

As you start to read this course, I’ll be your friendly neighborhood Darth Vader. Yes, I realize it is a contrived image, but hear me out. In the extended Star Wars universe, Darth Vader was always presented as a wrecking ball. He wasn’t subtle and spoke his mind without much concern to anything or anyone. While my intention is not to lead you into Dark Side, you may find some of the presented information uncomfortable. It may challenge your established views or even directly violate them. Before there is any misunderstanding about this, I’m not doing this to intentionally stir the pot. I’m doing it because you want to work with what is, instead of how you wish things are.

Now that we have the usual disclaimer out of the way, it is time to talk about actual contents. This course is designed for maximum easiness and readability, and it is divided into eight main chapters. We start by discussing unpleasant realities of influence and from there move first to how to connect with others. Each chapter builds on the previous one and it is advisable not to skip ahead.

I would also recommend you to take it easy. To compress everything into such a small space, there are not many throwaway sentences in this course. If you are a complete beginner, reading this course may sometimes even feel like drinking water from a firehose. This is why you are a casual reader, I would recommend you to read maybe a single chapter per day. This allows you to read the whole course in a week but prevents you from getting overwhelmed.

If, on the other hand, your goal is to integrate this material into your everyday life, my suggestion would be to read one section per day. This allows you to finish the whole course in eight weeks if you limit yourself to workdays. If you go down this path, think carefully about what is being said and do all the included questions. Quite often, you are better off if you think about what I said in literal terms. Also, you should pay special attention to any bolded statements. They contain the keys for understanding the whole influence process.

A Word about References

This course is meant to be a practical guide on winning people’s hearts, not a textbook on social psychology. Nevertheless, I realize many people in my audience want their material to be backed up by actual science. This is why you can find more than two hundred fifty references to peer-reviewed journal studies throughout this course. These references focus primarily on things like brain studies, biases, etc.

It should be noted I intended to credit every particular strategy to its inventor. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been possible in many cases, because I can’t even remember where I learned a specific technique. Furthermore, many teachers would downright lie about their influences and take credit for techniques they didn’t invent. Even when you can show precisely where they took the information, they often try to deny the connection. This makes it a nightmare to keep the record straight.

Fortunately, in this particular case, things are a little bit easier. I can tell this course is heavily influenced by three people. The first one is Blair Warren, a remarkable marketing and sales consultant who is best known for his book The One Sentence Persuasion Course. Then, we have Tom Vizzini & Kim McFarland, two excellent persuasion experts from Georgia. Their influences are most felt in rapport-related matters.