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Book Summary: Exactly What to Say – Your Personal Guide to the Mastery of Magic Words

Exactly What to Say (2017) is designed to provide you with the key phrases and words to make your conversations count and bring you success. It contains magic words. Words that are heard and interpreted by the subconscious mind. Words which will help you get the results you want.

We’re not sure if this is for you, but …

We’re not sure if this summary to Phil M. Jones’s Exactly What to Say is for you, but maybe you’ll know someone else who’s interested.

Okay, you caught us; we’re playing a little game with you here. You see, the phrase “I’m not sure if this is for you, but …” already gets you interested. The first part of the phrase hits your subconscious brain with the feeling that there’s no pressure involved; perhaps you’ll be interested, perhaps you won’t. And at the same time, the suggestion that you might not be interested actually piques your interest and primes you with the idea that a decision has to be made: is it for you, or not?

Book Summary: Exactly What to Say - Your Personal Guide to the Mastery of Magic Words

Adding on the word but at the end, though, is where the real magic comes in. Using but cancels out the “I’m not sure …” part of the sentence and your subconscious simply says, “I want to look at this!”

So, since we’ve already got you hooked, let’s get into some more magic words that can help you steer any conversation or business transaction to work in your favor.

Steering the Conversation

How open-minded are you? Consider that question for a moment. Almost everyone believes that they’re open-minded. Phil Jones, the author of Exactly What to Say, says that if you start a conversation with that phrase and follow it with the idea you want the person to opt into, the odds of them doing so rise from 50-50 to 90-10 in your favor. So if you ask, for instance, “Would you be open-minded about us working together on this?” it makes it difficult for the other person to reject your idea. They feel an obligation to at least try.

Sometimes you find that the person you’re speaking with wants to argue with you. They’re convinced that they know best. To avoid getting into a debate, resist the temptation to try to win the argument, and regain control of the conversation, you can try turning the discussion around by using the words “What do you know about …” These words allow you to test the basis on which the other person’s reasoning is based. Your aim is to get them to recognize that they have insufficient evidence to form their strongly held opinion. So you could try something like, “What do you know about our products?” or “What do you know about the way our business works?” When the other person then answers, you’re in a position to correct any errors in their knowledge.

Getting someone to agree on a date and time to see you to discuss your proposal, business idea, or product can often be challenging. But there’s some good news. A simple phrase will help you overcome other people telling you they don’t have time. When you ask someone, “When would be a good time to … ?” the other person’s subconscious is already tuned into the idea that there is a good time and that saying no isn’t the right response. By using the phrase you’ve demonstrated to the other person that you know they’re busy but there will be a time when they can fit you in.

Presenting Options

If you’ve sent some business materials in advance of a meeting, or it’s the second time you’re seeing a person after pitching your idea, you still need to keep control of the conversation. A good opening phrase in such situations is “I guess you haven’t got around to …” This allows the other person to save face. So, for example, if the person had said they need to consult their partner, you could say “I guess you haven’t got around to talking to your partner, yet.” In this scenario, the person will either be proud that they have actually done it or be embarrassed that they haven’t.

At the end of your presentations, how often do you close with, “Do you have any questions?” Many people do, but what this question does is create an expectation in the other person that they should have a question and feel stupid if they don’t have any. If you change the wording to “What questions do you have for me?” the other person either has a question or has no questions at all. If the former, you can provide the answer, and if the latter, then you’re closer to closing your deal.

In the same vein, instead of asking “Can I have your phone number?” try saying “What’s the best number for me to contact you on?” The Can I question creates resistance – the other person can see it as invading their privacy. The second question usually results in no resistance.

Everyone needs to feel as if they’re the one making the final decision. You can help this process by narrowing down the choices. You can do this by using the phrase “As I see it, you have three options.” Presenting three options not only makes it easier for the other person, but also allows you to build up to the final one, which is, of course, the one you want them to make.

Let’s illustrate this with an example. Start by setting the scene, the other person’s current situation – stuck in a boring job with no prospects, long hours so no time for family, and money is tight. Then remind the other person about the exciting opportunity that you’ve just shown them. Now, they have three options. First, search for new positions, send their résumé and applications, have interviews, find another employer, and end up doing the same kind of work for little extra reward. Second, do nothing and stay in their present situation. Third, work the opportunity you’ve shown them alongside their existing job. Finish by asking, “And which of those three options is going to be easier for you?” These final magic words will seal the deal!

Cause and Effect

There are two types of people in this world, people who immediately put into action what they hear about, and those who do nothing. We’re sure you already identify – or want to identify – with the first group of people. The moment the phrase “two types of people” is uttered, the voice in your head or anyone else’s says, “I must be one or the other,” and of course, you and they want to pick the more favorable choice.

I bet you’re a bit like me: you’d rather be working on something productive than flicking through Netflix in the evenings. Even if, in this case, you’re not like me, those words are powerful when it comes to getting someone to agree with you. If the person disagrees with you, it’s a useful tool to gather information about the person you’re presenting to. And when they do agree, it takes away possible future objections – especially if it comes to saying they don’t have time for the opportunity you’re offering them.

Do you remember the kind of things your parents used to tell you when you were a kid? Quite probably, they sometimes took the form of conditional statements. What do we mean by that? Well, statements that start with if and have a consequence that continues after then. An example might be, “If you don’t study hard at school, then you won’t be able to go to college.” Or, “If you don’t tidy your room, then you’re grounded.” These, If …, then … statements are powerful because the pattern they’ve created in your brain has hardwired the feeling that the consequences are always true.

All well and good, but what does it mean for you in business and personal development? Consider these two examples: “If you give this a try, then you won’t be disappointed.” And, “If you put this sentence pattern into practice, then you’ll certainly see results when you do.”

Guiding Next Steps

Imagine for a moment that you’ve gone back in time to when you were a child. You’re at the beach and there’s a rocky outcrop from which you can jump into the sea. You’re with other kids, too, but none of you wants to be the first to jump. Eventually, the first brave kid leaps into the water and lands with a splash. As soon as everyone sees the big smile on the first kid’s face and the fact that they’re not hurt, everyone wants a go.

You see, the thing about us humans is that we like to be followers and we trust in safety in numbers. And that’s where our next magic words come in: most people. When we use those words to describe a situation to someone, their subconscious says that if most people do that, then probably they should too.

Do you want to hear how most people can turn negatives into positives? They can use a technique known as labeling. When you label something in a conversation, it becomes difficult for that label to be removed. Quite literally, the label sticks! And this is how you can use the magic words, The good news is …

Let’s illustrate this with an example of someone who’s doubting their ability to work in business with you. You can reassure them by saying, “The good news is that other people were in the same situation when they started out, but we were able to support them and now they’re very successful.” This gets the person to look forward and, as Jones puts it “zaps any negative energy out of the conversation.”

So you’ve invested time explaining your business proposition to a prospect, they’ve agreed with everything you’ve said, and the point has come when you want them to commit, to make a decision – but suddenly the conversation ends abruptly. What do you do? Well, what you don’t do is leave the decision-making to happen by itself, or to your prospect. It’s here that you can lead them through the decision-making process by using the words “What happens next is …” Effectively, what you do is lead your prospect by the hand through to completion. Don’t tell them what you want them to do, rather tell them exactly what the next steps are.

Easing into Decisions

It’s Friday night, and you really want to meet up with your friend at the movie theater. They decline saying they can’t get there because their car is at the garage. You can overcome this objection using an “If I can… Will you?” structure, so, “If I can pick you up and drop you off afterward, will you be ready at 8:00 p.m.?” This simple technique also works in negotiations, on price for instance – “If I can match that price, will you be able to place an order?”

Getting someone to say yes when they’ve been heading toward no is a pretty difficult task. What you really need to do is get them to switch to maybe first. How can you do that? Try steering them back toward your idea using the words, “Before you make your mind up …”

So, for example, you could say “Before you make your mind up, let’s just go over the details again and make sure we covered all the facts.” This kind of sentence will allow the negotiation to continue. You might be able to present the facts in a slightly different way, or cover material you previously omitted, changing the perspective of your prospect and steering them once more in the direction of yes.

You’ve probably been told many times by people that they need more time to think. Usually, this means nothing of the sort, rather that they’re kicking the decision-making down the road. You might feel like responding with, “What is it you need to think about?” but don’t do that – as it stands, that just seems rude and a little bit aggressive. And definitely don’t walk away and tell the other person to come back to you when they’re ready. Instead, why not prefix it with some magic words, like this “Just out of curiosity, what is it that you need to think about?”

And then – and this is important – say nothing and wait for a response. There are two possible outcomes. First, the other person will give you an honest reason and you can work with them on that, or second, they’ll tell you that there’s actually nothing stopping them from proceeding. You can add the magic words “Just out of curiosity …” in many situations to make what otherwise might have been a rude question into a means to identify their objections.

Don’t worry, we know that there have been a lot of magic words in this summary a you to remember and use. You’ll get to know them as you first practice them and then master them. Actually, those two words we just used – don’t worry – are magic words, too. They immediately put people at ease in high-stress situations. Use them, and you’ll immediately have any situation under control.

Insights from Exactly What to Say by Phil Jones

“Magic Words are sets of words that talk straight to the subconscious brain. The subconscious brain is a powerful tool in decision-making because it is preprogrammed through our conditioning to make decisions without overanalyzing them.” – Phil Jones

Below are five sets of Magic Words you can use to persuade most people to listen to your idea or product pitches and take action. For each set of Magic Words, I’ll use the example of selling this book, ‘Exactly What to Say’ to a business owner.

“What do you know about…?”

Example: “What do you know about the magic words of persuasion?

When you introduce a topic with the preface: “What do you know about…?”, you put your recipient’s mind to work, searching for knowledge related to the topic you want to discuss. Once your recipient realizes he or she has a knowledge gap, they will be eager to fill it and curious to know more. At this point, you have an opportunity to introduce a few unexpected benefits of what you’re pitching/selling.

“How open-minded are you…?”

Example: “How open-minded are you to learning a set of words that could dramatically increase your sales?”

No one wants to be seen as ‘close-minded’; therefore, to save face, your recipient will likely pause and listen to what you have to say (even if he or she is initially opposed to your idea or resistant to buying your product).

Now that you’ve got your prospect’s attention with either “What do you know about…?” or “How open-minded are you…?”, you need to increase their interest in what you’re pitching. Therefore, the next set of Magic Words is:

“Just imagine…”

Example: “Just imagine if you could hit your sales target by using a few Magic Words.”

Author Phil Jones says, ‘Just imagine’ is the adult equivalent to: ‘Once upon a time.’ “When you hear the words, ‘Just imagine,’ the subconscious brain kicks a switch and opens up the image viewer, and it cannot help but picture the very scenario you are creating.”

Don’t stop at getting your recipient to see the positive difference your idea or product can make, get them to feel the difference your idea or product can make with the following set of Magic Words:

“How would you feel if …”

Example: “How would you feel if you doubled your sales next month?”

Author Phil Jones says, “The more contrast you can create between where somebody does not want to be and where they hope to be, the more likely you are to get people to move.”

Now that you’ve got someone interested in your product or idea, they need a ‘nudge’ to make the decision you want them to make. If you don’t push your recipient to decide, they’ll put it off.

Author Phil Jones says, “To me, the primary job description of all sales professionals is to be ‘decision catalysts’ in the lives of their customers and prospects, yet still the job can be more simply described as ‘professional mind-maker-upper.’”

If you want to become a ‘professional mind maker-upper,’ use the following set of magic words:

“The way I see it, you have three options…”

Example: “The way I see it, you have three options. First, rely on your current sales skills and continue to struggle. Second, spend thousands of dollars on sales workshops to improve your sales skills. Or third, pick up this short book for $11.99 to substantially improve your sales skills and start acquiring more customers.”

The key is to follow up the preface, “The way I see it, you have three options…” with two options that seem painful (troublesome status quo and a laborious alternative) and the option you want them to pick. If you frame the final option in a way that makes it seem like the path of least resistance, your recipient is more likely to choose option three and act in a way you want them to.

“The rhythm of three makes for easy listening for the other person, and by leaving your preferred choice until the end, you easily build the value of that option and load the choices so your preferred outcome stands out as a clear favorite.” – Phil Jones

“The right words at the right time can make all the difference.” – Phil Jones


Using the right words at the right time makes all the difference. We’ve covered a lot of words and situations, but there’s something you really need to remember: these magic words will work with most people most of the time, but not with all of the people all of the time.

Don’t be discouraged when they don’t work for you. Keep practicing! The more you use them, the more they’ll become second nature. Eventually, armed with these magic words – and your dedication, ambition, and drive – instead of counting conversations, you’ll soon be having conversations that count.

About the author

Best-selling author and multiple award-winner Phil M. Jones is highly regarded as one of the world’s leading sales trainers. He has trained more than two million people across five continents and fifty-six countries and coached some of the biggest global brands in the lost art of spoken communication. In 2013 he won the British Excellence in Sales and Marketing Award for Sales Trainer of the Year, the youngest-ever recipient of that honor. He has also written a series of best-selling books and developed a number of online training courses that have enrolled tens of thousands of members around the world. Phil divides his time between London and New York.

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