Words are powerful. So very powerful. Words can invite someone to an exciting future or they can steal that future away from them. Words can give teams a focus and a finish line to lean towards or they can be the reason people choose not to participate anymore. Words can shape the future of any organisation in a way that people willingly and excitedly sign up for the future. Words that leaders speak are the doorway and the pathway for people to choose to be part of your shared future. Therefore, choose your words wisely. Rudyard Kipling believed that “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Words that inform and help. Words that inspire and transform. Leaders who speak carefully select words that will serve their hearers and communicate their message even more powerfully.
Think of the words you choose more like the colours you would select to paint a picture or the way you would frame a photo to capture the moment and tell the story. Words frame the heart and the intent of what needs to be said.
There are several ways to craft words that inspire people, here are five ideas inspired from Galli & Larson’s book that uses creative journalistic techniques to make messages more memorable.
Show the comparisons using metaphor & simile.
The book “I never metaphor I didn’t like” gives you a comprehensive and witty compilation of the deep and wide use of the metaphor. A metaphor is a statement that says one thing IS another, for example ‘There is an elephant in the room.” A simile says make the comparison by using the word “like” or “as” and makes the comparison that way. For example “they are like two peas in a pod.” Using metaphors and similies are powerful because the words create pictures that we can immediately see and relate to. They can be insightful, witty, outrageously funny and even critical (be careful with the use of that!)
The art of the metaphor and simile is getting it right, because the cost of getting it wrong can mean a significant disconnect for your listeners. Make sure you are confident of the way the comparison will be experienced so you can launch fully into it and have it serve the purpose of your presentation.
Show how it’s different using a contrast frame.
The contrast frame is an excellent tool for leaders who speak so they can make the difference even more apparent than it looks. Galli and Larson say that contrast “accentuates and intensifies” when you make a statement of difference between two issues, points of view or perspectives. A wisely used contrast frame makes the gap between the two points big enough to be able to follow it up with the potential alternatives and pathways forward.
The danger of the contrast frame is making one of the two points downright evil. That might be the intention of some communicators IF the matter truly is, but the delicacy is making sure you aren’t making one issue so wrong in order for you to be so right. Leaders who do that quickly lose the respect of their listeners as they tire of the back and forth of good and bad.
Show relationships and parallels between ideas.
Parallelism provides the opportunity to make abstract ideas more concrete and more accessible to be grasped by the listener. It takes a distant concept and brings it close enough to feel and see and imagine what it is like. In the faith world I am part of, one phrase used to describe the beauty and the mystery of life is “I don’t know what the future holds but I know who holds the future.” The future is distant and abstract but the inference that there is one who I can have confidence in, makes it more real, more human, closer and therefore easier to digest.
Making the relationship easy to relate to and imagine makes the concept easier to grasp and provides the leader who speaks with the opportunity to put into context what has happened and what needs to happen next. Churchill put both perspective and gratitude onto his phrase “Never in the field of human conflict was so much, owed to by so many, to so few.” Leaders who speak make the links between elegant, nuanced ideas and place them well inside the reach of their listeners and leverage that by leading them towards the new perspective or clear next step.
Show how to remember is by repeating a key idea.
Perhaps the most famous refrain of the 20th Century is Martin Luther King declaring that “I have a dream” When you are speaking and you find a phrase to hang off your key ideas and introduce each one of them with a powerful refrain that has almost musical overtones to it. Barak Obama did it in his “Yes we can” speech. Churchill did it in his “We will fight them” speech. Jesus uses the phrased “Blessed are you” to remind his listeners what it takes to succeed in life. JKF used it in preparation for his Presidential campaign where he said:”I believe in an America.”
Repetition and refrain allow you to make your points consistently and in a memorable way. They allow you to have a rhythm and pace that continues to engage your listeners and continue the poetry your message. Leaders who speak look deep and wide for this gathering idea that wraps its arms beautifully around your message. When you find it, deliver it with confidence and warmth.
Show how to make a point more impacting using hyperbole and understatement.
In the Australian movie The Dish there is a scene where a reporter is quizzing the operator of the Parkes Satellite Station who were to play a central role in the July 1969 Moon landing in partnership with NASA. He suggests that the task is so significant and so important on a global scale that the importance of it working and the implications of it going wrong really really matter. In the scene the reports asks the Dish operators how they feel about it. There is a quick refocus onto the operators and he says ‘A lot better until you opened your trap!” For an Australian this is classic understatement. Perhaps as a nation we specialise in this art form and other nations are better known for their deployment of hyperbole where everything is bigger and wider and better.
Hyperbole allows you to extract the differences from the topic or situation. It allows you to make one thing even bigger than it really is in context. It allows you to employ humour in an immediate and honourable way. It exaggerates issues so that even if they were tense they might be given a different perspective as a result.
Understatement allows you to use a quieter, dryer form of humour. When describing cold weather you may say “Wow, is it warm enough for you?” It’s allows you to introduce irony, even sarcasm (carefully) into you repertoire.
Leaders who speak find creative and disciplined way to utilise each of these skills in and around their presentation. Be careful not to overuse any particular one. Remember to consider the deployment of the skill in the context of your topic and your audience. Netsuke Takaya said “Because even the smallest of words can be the ones to hurt you, or save you.” Leaders who speak know this and choose to use words that share the story and invite people along for the journey at the same time. Words that invite, inspire and influence, now THAT’S Leaderspeak!
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