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.

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