Sunday, January 31, 2010

High Impact Communication Techniques: Adopting Metaphorical Language Used by Others; To be the "Mountain Goat" of Something

Reference my blog of yesterday about President Obama using the term “Bolshevik plot” metaphorically during his Q&A session with the Republicans, and the term being widely quoted in the media. That is a perfect example of how all of us can enlarge our vocabulary of stirring and impactful terms by adopting somebody’s imaginative metaphor, simile, or other analogy.

Take for instance the term Bolshevik which is not commonly heard metaphorically, even though the Bolshevik Revolution is pretty common knowledge. Well, Obama’s use of Bolshevik this past Friday, and the resulting laughter among the audience and flutter in the media, reminded me how evocative and how strong a term of opprobrium it is in Western democracies, and immediately suggested to me that it would be a wonderful addition to my arsenal of metaphorical terms, especially when using the technique of exaggeration to create humor.

Specific examples of how I expect to use it in the near future: when referring to someone in the third person who is sort or rebellious or borders on being a bit of a revolutionary as “Oh, that guy is a Bolshevik.” Or, I could tamp down people’s anxieties following some tumultuous happening or political upset by saying “Come on, this is not the Bolshevik Revolution or something. They will recover.”

I am constantly picking up imaginative terms from the few talking heads who are extremely articulate and who regularly grace radio and television, and so can you. I refer to people such as George Will, featured every Sunday on “ABC This Week,” and Mark Shields, who appears on “PBS News Hour” at least once a week. Several months ago, I heard Shields describe a politician as “He is extremely surefooted, never makes a mistake. He is the mountain goat of politics.” Beat that for evocativeness! I have since used the term “mountain goat” metaphorically several times, and always elicited laughter from my audience.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Communicating Successfully: Obama’s “Bolshevik Plot” Line Instantly Becomes Airborne, Illustrating the Power of Fresh, Evocative Metaphors

During the fascinating 1.5 hour Q&A the Republicans had with Barack Obama at their party’s caucus yesterday, when the president, describing how his healthcare initiative had been treated by the other side, said “…as if it was (spontaneous pause) some Bolshevik plot,” there was laughter and even applause from many in the all-Republican audience. Radio and TV news channels of every political stripe began broadcasting that line immediately, and have done so incessantly during the past 24 hours.

Well, what accounts for Obama’s choice of words becoming airborne the moment they were uttered? It’s that the metaphor he used was so fresh and evocative. Further, it created much humor because embedded in those words was the technique of using exaggeration, a specialty of the late Louis Rukeyser. I can bet Obama’s “Bolshevik plot” line will be recalled for years to come by people on both sides of the political divide.

For ordinary mortals like me who are constantly trying to invigorate their communication skills, there are two important takeaways from the above:

(i) The wall-to-wall reporting of Obama’s statement containing the words "Bolshevik plot" graphically illustrates how someone who is trying to emphasize a point can get tremendous mileage by using an out-of-the-ordinary, strong, and easy to grasp metaphor or simile.

(ii) The use of spontaneous, split-second pauses at key moments can be very rewarding for they enable a speaker to come up with fresh and penetrating words on the spur of the moment. It was that mini pause, just after the words “As it was,” that facilitated Obama’s coming up with the term "Bolshevik plot" because it gave time to the random access drive in his brain--a device that we all possess--to seek some out-of-the-ordinary word(s).

Bottom line: Without a spontaneous pause, it’s unlikely a speaker will be able to come up with synonyms, metaphorical language, or other analogy to emphasize a point or buttress a communication, unless of course if the person has conjured up and made a note of such terms before the dialogue.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

High-Impact Public Speaking: Taking a Page from Elvis Presley

Take a moment to recall film clips of Elvis performing during the second half of the 1950s, his first years as a rock star. As pointed out by CBS’s Jeff Greenfield in a recent feature honoring the singer’s 75th birth anniversary, what drove Elvis’s audience into a frenzy was not just his voice or his looks, but the way he moved. His entire body seemed to be in motion. In fact, Elvis himself remarked: “I sing with my whole body!”

Public speakers seeking to maintain a tight hold on their audience during the entire length of a presentation would do well to substitute the word “speak” for “sing” in the above quote from Elvis and make it their motto. Indeed, highly effective public speaking involves not just using your voice but also appropriate facial expressions, hand gestures, and movements of the torso (see my post of Nov. 15 ’09). In short, high-impact public speaking means making your entire body animated!

As a public speaking coach here in Houston, I often urge my clients to perform the following "self test": Watch a video clip of your performance with the sound turned off. If you are doing a good job, you’ll be able to discern at which points in the recording you are striving to emphasize a point, for at those moments your whole body--at least the entire upper half--will be in motion. Yes, even with the sound turned off, it will make for fascinating viewing.

Building a Powerful Vocabulary: New Edition of “Words of the Month”

Oops! I had forgotten to mention that the latest edition of “Words of the Month,” my free vocabulary enhancement feature, has been online since late last month. Words featured this time: hegemon and hegemony; penurious; cantankerous; subversive; demigod; hector. As in previous editions, all of the featured words are within the conversational vocabulary of America’s most articulate.

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Miscellaneous clips

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