"Language exerts hidden power, like a moon on the tides."
Rita Mae Brown, American writer
Language...something we use everyday; something we take for granted; yet something that has enormous power in helping us effectively and persuasively communicate our ideas.
According to the dictionary publisher, Merriam-Webster, there are roughly one million words in the English language and we have access to pretty well all of them when we create a presentation. Too often, however, we use the same tired phrases repeatedly, not truly tapping into the abundance of options available to express our thoughts and ideas.
Impact does not necessarily come from how "big" or complicated the words are but rather how they're organized and how descriptive they are. Choosing words that evoke a picture or a sensation or an emotional response in the listener will resonate strongly and make your message more memorable.
Consider one of Winston Churchill's famous declarations:
"You ask what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."
He could have said, "We need to win or we won't survive." But contrast that factual, concise statement with the eloquence of Churchill's words. Which one do you find more spine-tingling and persuasive?
WHAT MADE IT SO GOOD?
- There are only two words in Churchill's statement (victory and survival) that have more than two syllables.
- "Victory" is a much stronger word than "win".
- He repeats victory five times, for emphasis, in four sentences.
- He asks and answers his own question.
- In the three phrases, all starting with the word "victory", he employs the rhetorical device, "the rule of threes", to create impact through repetition.
Churchill was a powerful orator who developed his skills through the study of rhetoric and many long hours of practice. He has much to teach us about the power language has to persuade, soothe, incite and inspire.
Here are some resources for increasing your vocabulary and your exposure to the breadth and depth of the English language: