Consider your word choices to make your words stick

Every word counts when you’re training, says Eddie Darroch.

As professional trainers you’ll be aware of many of the verbal tricks of the trade which help your audiences remember what you say (and also help you remember what to say). The question is, when you are busy, are you always consciously reviewing your training material and making the best use of the panoply of verbal choices you have available?

Here are some suggestions for word tools you can use to have the maximum impact on your audience and help them to remember what they are learning and keep remembering what they’ve learned when they are back at their jobs.

Channel the ancient Greeks and Romans

It is always a good idea to review your use of rhetorical devices so beloved by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The simple tricolon continues to work its magic as lists of three are particularly memorable.

Find your inner Julius Caesar. I came. I saw. I conquered. Veni. Vidi.Vici. 

Using your words to link ideas is called anadiplosis. For example: ‘Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering’. This is a quote from Yoda of Star Wars’ fame. It’s the progression of thought and the rhythm that help to make it so memorable.

By taking time to review the words you are using you’ll give them the best chance of remembering and achieving the training objectives.

Similarly there is rhythm and the rhetorical device chiasmus exemplified by President John F Kennedy: ‘My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country’. Turning around the thought from the expected to the unexpected is powerful.

Alliteration; using the same sound or letter at the start of a word – makes your speech both memorable and easy to memorise though you have to be careful not to give yourself too tricky a verbal hurdle.

I particularly enjoyed a recent Economist article about eating rabbit which contains two alliterations in quick succession. First was ‘Lapping up lapin’ which is reasonably simple to remember and say.

However the writer then said ‘But the hutch-based solution that Mr Maduro has hatched has run into a hitch’. The second example could require practice and verbal dexterity from a confident speaker to deliver the full comic effect.

Find punchy soundbites

Love him or loath him, Donald Trump has a knack of finding short, punchy action statements that resonate with his particular audience. ‘Build the wall’, Drain the swamp’, ‘Lock her up’ had great impact and have been endlessly repeated. Find soundbites, particularly these type of short three-word phrases to hammer home particular points.

Use a leitmotif

A highly effective communicator like Barack Obama also employed rhetorical skills, his weapon of choice is by repeating same phrase – who could forget the simple yet strident statement ‘Yes we can’?  This leit motif punctuates his famous New Hampshire speech.

Use humour

‘Mocha is not my cup of tea’ is mildly amusing wordplay but when you learn it refers to a horse named Mocha and a nervous rider is making the remark, the meaning resonates further with the listener. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s speech writers made her audience laugh with, ‘You turn if you want to, the lady’s not for turning’ and it has been much quoted over the decades.

Humour as we know is memorable so if find it where you can perhaps in stories and references that everyone will relate to from within your organisation.

Check for VAK

Given our individual biases towards certain senses it’s worth reviewing to check if you can making the most of all the senses when you speak.

Give your audience strong visuals. The more visual imagery contained in your speech or presentation, the more memorable it becomes. Take the following example: ‘An elephant with a wide-brimmed hat told his submarine to dive beneath the sea’. Adding colours will give an additional dimension to this unusual image.

Sound can act both as a tool in its own right but also as a reinforcement. When you describe a ‘crashing cymbal’ or a ‘crack of thunder’ the audience is automatically given an image as well as adding a sense of drama to your speech.

If you run your fingers over an object, what feeling do you experience? Can what you’re describing be thought of as smooth, rough or perhaps sharp?

Your audience wants to remember what they are learning from you. By taking time to review the words you are using you’ll give them the best chance of remembering and achieving the training objectives. 


About the author

Eddie Darroch is part of Toastmasters International.


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