Captivate: Summary and Review


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

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A grab bag of charisma techniques. This is not the first book I would start with, but there are some fun tips in here.

Most of these emphasize the “Unexpected” aspect from Made to Stick, but this is only one part of the SUCCES framework.


You can’t “fake it until you make it”, because peoples’ social radars are very finely tuned to detect when people are being fake. If you force yourself to enjoy something you don’t enjoy, or when you are faking it, the quality of your social relationships will deteriorate because most people can detect that you’re faking it.

The most e-mailed articles list on the New York Times: Thirty-five percent of the articles on the viral list promised a story. (The most effective headlines) “My Dark California Dream” or “Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion”

Business Cards

Instead of “I’m a writer”, try “I’m a professional people watcher”, and put fun visuals on your business card.

Use introductions to highlight people

Instead of “Vanessa, meet Dave”, try “Vanessa, meet Dave. He is killing it in the software industry and just had a hugely successful launch.”

Be a highlighter

  • Listen with purpose: always search for the good
  • Be the high point of every interaction by giving people a reason to remember you
  • When you expect the worst, that’s exactly what you will get.

I would ask people, What’s your biggest challenge right now? and then connect them with at least three people who I thought could help. I would literally take out my phone, make the call, and hand the person my phone.

If someone mentions they went to private school growing up, don’t say, “Ugh! I hated those preppy kids. I went to good old public school.” Instead, note it and resume looking for something you do have in common. (You might say, “Interesting! Did you play any sports?” or “Wow, I didn’t know that, tell me more!”)

Don’t fall into the not me! trap; instead, find a way to say me too!

Non-standard conversation starters

Instead of “Should I ask about her book? How much I love her books?”, try “Do you like soup?”

Instead of Hack
How’s work? Working on any exciting projects recently?
How are you? What was the highlight of your day?
What do you do? Working on any personal passion projects?
How’s the family? Have any vacations coming up?
Where are you from? What’s your story?
How’s it going? What are you up to this weekend?
Been busy? What do you do to unwind?

Alternatives to “how are you doing?”:

  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?
  4. What’s your story?
  5. What brings you here?
  6. What do you do?
  7. How are you?

Little hits of dopamine

  • Hand out lollipops with business cards that say “Learn how to not suck”
  • Offer people hot cocoa instead of coffee.
  • Have a bowl of Pop Rocks instead of mints.
  • In your guest bathroom, put an R2D2 Pez dispenser and a gift book welcoming snoopers to the medicine cabinet
  • Send people air plants instead of flowers
  • Stop posting food pictures and sunsets on Instagram. Laura Izumikawa started posting pictures of her sleeping newborn baby dressed like different celebrities and characters like Jon Snow, Pikachu, and Beyoncé.
  • Stop bringing casserole to potlucks. Whip up a recipe no one has tried before. Pinterest is a never-ending source of inspiration for rainbow cupcakes, Rice Krispies ice cream, and pickle potato chips.

Put a unique quote in your e-mail signature. Noah Kagan, creator of an e-mail and analytics software, has a funny sign-off on all of his e-mails: “Ps. Y u NO install the free to get more e-mail subscribers?” The purposeful misspellings and play on a popular meme makes his ask unique and very clickable.

Spice up your job title. Quicken Loans has a “vice president of miscellaneous stuff” who helps with a little bit of everything. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt calls its receptionists “directors of first impressions” since they are typically the company’s greeters.

Instead of sending thank-you cards, send thank-you stickers—or pins, or lollipops, or popcorn. At the Be Sage wedding conference, they gave attendees coloring books and pencils to use during sessions and on the plane ride home. People loved them and shared tons of pictures of their creations on social media with the conference’s hashtag.

Vow of Silence

The first day was the hardest. I walked into my first networking event as a sweaty, jittery mess. What if I freaked people out? What would I do in those horrible long pauses of silent disgust? Can you get kicked out of networking events for not networking?

I completely panicked when a gentleman introduced himself. But I shakily held up my first card: “I’ve taken a Vow of Silence. I’m trying to become a better listener.”

To my delight and surprise, he laughed and told me how he had once lost his voice to laryngitis in college and it was one of the coolest and craziest experiences of his life. Then he spoke about meeting his wife a few weeks later. Then he shared his hope for his children. Then he asked for my card. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t have to. He just wanted to be listened to.

Story Stack

Trigger Topic


Current Events

Recent News

A Shocking News Story

  • What’s one news story you will never forget, and where you were when you heard it?
  • Where were you when you found out?



Growing Up

  • Do you miss your hometown or are you glad you escaped?
  • What’s a funny memory you have growing up?


Forgetting Names

Interesting Names

Hard to Spell Names

  • What’s the history of your family name?
  • What’s the most interesting name you have ever heard?
  • Do you like your name?


First Job

Career Choices

Dream Jobs

  • What advice would you give a teenager entering into this kind of work?
  • What surprised you most about the job you are in?
  • Did something surprising happen to lead you to what you do now?

New Activities


Weekend Adventures

  • What’s on your bucket list?
  • Where do you take out-of-town guests when they come to visit you?
  • Tried any new activities recently? Did you love them or hate them?



Holiday Traditions

  • Where are you going next on vacation?
  • Best vacation spot in the world?
  • What’s the best or worst vacation you ever had?




  • Best party you’ve ever been to?
  • Best gift you ever received?
  • Best childhood party you ever had?





  • Do you have big plans this summer or a story from last summer?
  • What does summer remind you of?
  • Did you go to camp?


Storm Stories

Extreme Weather

  • Ever get caught in terrible or unexpected weather?
  • What’s the worst sunburn you’ve ever had?
  • What’s your favorite season?




Road Trips

  • Do you listen to audiobooks on tape when you drive?
  • What’s your favorite driving playlist or station?
  • What’s your favorite podcast?
  • Do you have a long commute?

TV Shows



Classic Books / Films / Shows


  • What are you reading or watching right now?
  • What was the last thing you read or watched?
  • What’s the most interesting documentary, book, or article you’ve ever seen?
  • What’s your favorite character?
  • What actor would play you in a movie?


Role Models

Famous Stories

Fascinating People

  • Have you ever met a celebrity?
  • Have you heard any interesting real-life tidbits about celebrities?
  • If you could meet any celebrity, who would you meet?
  • Do you have a famous role model?



Music Festivals



  • Have you been to events like this before?
  • What’s the craziest event you’ve ever been to?
  • Do you go to conferences?
  • Do you go to music festivals?
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