Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Visual, Evocative Words to Emphasize Something—Some Inspiring / Humorous Examples

Here are some recent examples of articulate Americans and others using a vivid, evocative expression to emphasize something--examples which, I hope, will inspire the rest of us into similarly imaginative use of the language, especially when we are trying to break through the clutter.

1. Contrasting the Nixon presidency with current political times, Bob Woodward saying on “Face the Nation” this past weekend: “In the Nixon era, the piston driving the Nixon presidency was hate. We now have a lot of conflict, a lot of disagreement, but I don’t see hate in our politics.”

2. While commenting on the Fed’s plan to pump money into the economy by buying government debt, Alan Blinder--former vice chair of the Federal Reserve—telling PBS: “Here is another alternative for the Fed. Currently, it pays banks about a quarter percent on their account reserves. The Fed could lower that to zero, or even go negative (by charging them) to kind of sandblast that money out of the banks and into the economy.”

3. Talking about Cleopatra’s extraordinary verbal skills, Stacy Schiff, who has recently authored a biography of the famous queen, telling PBS’s “Newshour”: “…fluent in nine languages, able to converse with her own subjects, which no earlier king or queen of her dynasty had been able to do, and apparently just a persuasive, silken arguer and speaker, according to Plutarch.”

4. Speaking about the nation’s financial problems during a recent edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Bethany McLean (yes, she of “The Smartest Guys in the Room” fame) telling fellow panelists, which included Alan Greenspan and Newt Gingrich, “People at this table may disagree with me but it seems to me that our budget problems are not calculus, they are not algebra, they are simple arithmetic. We are spending three dollars for every two dollars we take in. Something needs to give.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Julie and David Eisenhower Interview on CBS "Sunday Morning": A Lesson in the Obligations of Those Who Are Voluble, Expressive, or Outspoken

I’ve long been an admirer of Julie and David Eisenhower, and not for any ideological reasons. And because the famous couple rarely appears in the media, I eagerly consumed every moment of their interview broadcast last month on CBS “Sunday Morning,” one of my favorite television shows. [For the uninitiated: Julie Eisenhower is the daughter of President Nixon and David is the grandson of President Eisenhower.]

But one aspect of the interview was painful watching: Each time interviewer Mo Rocca threw a question at the seated couple jointly, the voluble and assertive Julie would instantly launch into a reply, with David sometimes vainly gesturing and trying to add a comment (once, even flailing his arms) and then abandoning his response mid-sentence upon realizing that he was not getting anywhere (because of his relative inaudibility, he was unable to seize Mo Rocca’s attention), as Julie continued with her detailed and enthusiastic response.

I believe there is a powerful lesson to be drawn from the above. Whenever two or more people are being interviewed jointly, it behooves the person who is decidedly more vocal, expressive, or vehement to make a conscious effort, such as occasionally pausing and looking at the other person, to encourage and even coax a response from him or her. A must if the latter happens to be a relatively shy or reticent type.

To watch that fascinating segment on CBS: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/10/24/sunday/main6987169.shtml

© Copyright 2010 V.J. Singal

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Injecting Humor in a Presentation on a Dry Topic; Eric Schurenberg Shines

Clients often tell me that one of their biggest challenges is inserting a bit of humor into their presentations, especially if they are speaking on something “dry” or very technical. In response, and somewhat reflexively, I remind them about the power of metaphorical language. Of course, there are other ways to enliven a dull topic.

This morning, while reviewing the Oct. 13 edition of PBS’s highly-regarded “Nightly Business Report,” recorded during my recent four weeks of travel, I burst out with laughter when I heard Eric Schurenberg, editor-in-chief of BNET.com, utter the words shown below in Italics while speaking about an unusual estate-tax avoidance opportunity that exists this year:

"2010 offers a tax-avoidance opportunity that is to die for, literally. This year, for the first time since 1916, the families of people who die will face not a penny in estate taxes. Draw a breath in 2011, however, and under current law your heirs will owe the government 55% of your taxable estate of above $1 million. Out of that ..."

It’s a fantastic example of how a bit of imaginative wording can animate something dry and desiccated.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Continued Reverberation of Obama’s Use of “Shellacking”—An Illustration of the Power of the Spoken Word

It’s nearly three weeks since the Nov. 2 mid-term election. Yet, Obama’s word “shellacking,” which he used during a press conference the following day to describe the reverses he and the Democratic Party suffered, continues to resound. There is not a day when I don’t hear or see that word quoted in a news report, magazine article, or a current affairs discussion in the media. It proves something that I have been telling my audiences and clients for over two decades: A single word that is out-of-the-ordinary and vivid can help make a presentation indelible.

Perhaps the finest example of a fresh, strong, evocative word giving immortality to a speech or other communication is FDR’s “infamy” speech. Here is what I say about that iconic speech in the opening paragraph of my essay “Building a Wide and Vivid Vocabulary—Why Bother?” in my book "The Articulate Professional": On each anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, we Americans get to hear, in the voice of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the opening words from a speech he delivered to Congress one day after the Japanese attack: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941--a date which will live in infamy--the United States was . . .” Clearly, it is the word “infamy” that endows that line with so much impact and firmness. What if FDR had stuck with his original draft, worded “…a date which will live in world history…” Would the opening line of that speech still be so resonant and a fixture of American history, replayed in news programs and documentaries year after year, more than six decades later? Hardly!

A relatively recent example of a prominent American’s imaginative words becoming airborne and thus entering the lexicon: then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance,” uttered during a speech in the 1990s, which were repeatedly quoted by talking heads, analysts, and others during the recent financial crisis.

Having made my case for why it pays to enrich one's command of the language, I hope you will be a frequent visitor to my free vocabulary enhancement feature Words of the Month which profiles words used conversationally by America’s most articulate.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Delivering a Cogent Presentation on Leadership: One Approach or Recipe

Sure, there are several approaches to developing a compelling presentation on the subject of leadership—a presentation that is a far cry from the one discussed in my previous post (Oct. 31) which was amorphous, built on an inappropriate and impractically long mnemonic, and comprised an unending fusillade of slides bearing the names and comments of/about countless famous leaders of the past. Here is one simple but highly effective way to create something that is crystalline and which the audience can easily embrace and remember:

(i) As a first step and based on your research and analysis, identify the most critical attributes of leadership that you wish to talk about. [Suggested number: 3 or more, but not exceeding six, to keep the list manageable for the audience.]

(ii) Mention the names of, say, half a dozen great leaders each of whom you believe exemplified all or most of the qualities enumerated in Step 1. And if you want to make your presentation universally applicable as well as timeless, pick leaders from different fields. For instance, a highly admired military commander such as Field Marshal Erich von Manstein (my long-time hero); a business leader such as Jack Welch or Carly Fiorina; a non-profit or environmental leader such as Dr. Steven Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society of New York; a leader of a highly successful movement for civil rights and freedom, such as Mahatma Gandhi; one of the most revered American presidents such as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt; and so on.

(iii) The final step is obvious: Based on your research, show the audience how each of your pick of 5 or 6 leaders exemplified most if not all of the leadership attributes you mentioned in (i) above as being of paramount importance.

End of presentation, one that is convincing and thought provoking!