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Cleaning Up Your Language: Persuasive Oration

Mar 6, 2008
Language is a skill and an art, as is persuasion, and both can most definitely be mangled and turned into a disadvantage if used improperly. Unless you're a child prodigy, as Mozart was with composing and playing music, as H.P. Lovecraft was with writing poems, and as Pablo Picasso was artistically, then you will most likely have to practice whichever art you choose to become good at.

As persuaders we primarily use our language skills to work with our affluent prospects and clients. We are served well when we use these language properly and speak powerfully.

Reading is the quickest way to improve your vocabulary (unless you're reading gossip magazines, in which case, your vocabulary might diminish).

With that said, having a huge vocabulary doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be a great speaker. Oration is completely different from vocabulary. A huge percentage of people have the fear of public speaking. There's also the little issue of having something of interest to say.

And once you get over the fear of speaking and have something to say of importance or interest, then there's the next obstacle. . . the delivery.

I was chatting with my transcriptionist recently and she told me that I use the phrase 'in other words' a lot. I do use this phrase a lot and I think part of the reason is because when I'm teaching I am always looking for new ways to say something, delivering the message in as many ways as possible for maximum understanding. I also don't use the word 'um' and 'in other words' is possibly taking up the place of that as a way to stall.

"Um. . . Slips, Stumbles and Verbal Blunders and What They Mean" by Michael Erard is a great new book about language. I learned something amazing in the first few pages. Since as far back as the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, some form of 'um' has been used in all languages. It's universal. The French say 'euh', in Spain it's 'eh'. So it's safe to say that this is an innate human characteristic.

Only since the twentieth century has 'um. . . ' become unpopular likely with the advent of television and radio. And if you were in the debate club in school or did any public speaking in an academic setting, you know that teachers frown upon and attempt to vanquish 'um' from all presentations.

'Um. . .' (the book) starts out with the transcriptionists of the Federal News Service. They're the ones that do the closed captions for the hearing impaired. The style guidelines of the FNS state that all of the 'umms' and 'uhs' and 'ahs' and 'ers' are left out, false starts of one or two words are left out, and partial words are left out. The one exception is: policymakers. . .everything a policymaker says is typed out verbatim.

I couldn't help myself. I skipped ahead and read the chapter on George W. Bush. And while it's not as funny as 'Bushisms' it is quite an interesting take on perception and how people view him as a result of his "disfluencies". Some consider him 'down home' and 'one of the people', with his speech patterns and gaffes making him more accessible and affable. While others consider his blunders to be an indication of his 'lack of preparedness' and/or intelligence and a dangerous indication of a 'disconnect with reality'. Either way, whichever side you're on, some of his more memorable malapropisms are really amusing.

This week, pay close attention to the way you talk. How many times do you use um or uh? How often do you start a thought and then let it fall away? How many blunders do you make? And pay attention to the way other people talk too and how their language affects the way you perceive them.
About the Author
Kenrick Cleveland teaches strategies to earn the business of affluent clients using persuasion. He runs public and private seminars and offers home study courses and coaching programs in persuasion strategies.
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