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The time I used a Kit Kat to meet a millionaire on a train

How do you feel right now? Are you happy, sad or excited? My guess is that whatever you were feeling before was boredom and I’m about to tell you why.

This series of blog posts are about persuasion, but in exploring when to persuade someone, I realised the only time you can convert someone to do something is when they want to. Beyond that, it’s unethical manipulation to me.

So what I’m here today to talk to you about is the best time to capture someone’s attention, after that it’s up to you to use persuasion techniques to make sure they remember you if they have a problem you can solve. How am I going to do this? Well, I’ll start by telling you a story about the time I used a Kit Kat to meet a millionaire on a train.

What the hell happened on that train?

Picture this. It’s about lunchtime on a Monday and I’m on my way up North to go to a client site. I’m in first class… because it was declassified. I’m sat across from three men in suits who I blissfully ignore the existence of as I shovel food into my mouth with headphones in my ears.

Now switch scenes quickly. When I first moved into my flat about three months ago, one of my flatmates greeted me by handing me a kit kat. I don’t eat much candy, so it sat on top of my dresser for about a month. That morning I saw it on my dressers and decided for some reason I wanted to take it with me on the train. I feel like there was an angel singing in the background, but memories are easily manipulated so I can’t be sure.

Back to the train. At some point after my meal, I took my headphones out of my ears because my phone battery was draining, and began to take in the world around me.

Part way through my journey, a trolley cart came across the train loaded with snacks and sweets. He stopped in the middle of myself and the men and asked them if they wanted anything.

“Can I please have a Kit Kat” one of the men said.

I looked in front of me and saw my own Kit Kat, I was full after lunch and decided I wasn’t going to eat it. Also, it’d been a while since I came across three men in business suits and I thought it might make for an interesting conversation (I love talking to strangers). Upon these realisations, I said “Hey I’m not going to eat mine, you can have it.”

“Are you sure?” he said.

“Yes of course haha, I’m full.” I laughed back

“You’re going to take my job.” bantered the trolly cart man as he rolled away.

I handed the man the Kit Kat and one of the other men on the train said “you got anything else?” In fact I did and I handed over two cookies my friend had made the day before.

We spent about an hour talking after that and I learned that one of those three men was the owner of one of the largest high-end jewellery stores in the UK. The three of them had just gotten back from meeting with Omega watches. We got talking about behavioural psychology and human resource practices but also connected on things like politics and philosophy.

At the end of the train journey, the owner asked for my card. I didn’t have one on me but I wrote down my details.

I’m going up to their store on 7th November.

The Psychology of Waiting

Opportunities like this aren’t as rare as you think. Yes, it was lucky I had the Kit Kat with me, but I talk to strangers all the time. The key to approaching someone is to make sure they’re not doing anything else important. Applying this to wider consumer marketing, you’re more likely to catch someone’s attention when they’re bored.

Almost all of us hate boredom. How much? In a series of 11 studies the University of Virginia found some people would prefer to get electric shocks than be bored. Why do we hate it? Peter Toohey, author of Boredom: A Lively History: thinks it’s because as a muscle, the brain fears atrophy when it’s bored.

To use boredom to your advantage, go places where people are likely to be waiting and hating it. Like trains (can personally recommend), places where people are likely to queue (like the post office) or even places where people are focused but need to take breaks (like the gym or on social media at work). Then, when you have their attention at these places, it’s up to you to use other methods of persuasion to make sure they remember you.

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