Watch Your Mouth: Persuasive Oration

Hi Persuader,

Language, like persuasion, is an art. It’s an art that can be mangled, yes. (Check out a previous post, Knowing When To Keep Your Mouth Shut).

And as with any art, (unless you’re a prodigy as Mozart was with music, as H.P. Lovecraft was with poetry, as Pablo Picasso was with painting), most likely you will have to practice to be good at the art of language, and subsequently the art of persuasion.

As we gear ourselves toward persuading the affluent, using language and speaking powerfully will serve us well.

It’s likely that the more you read, the bigger your vocabulary (unless you’re only reading, say, People Magazine or one very precise genre with limited language specific to that type). One of the most valuable things you can do to increase your vocabulary is read.

Having a huge vocabulary doesn’t mean that you’re going to be a great speaker. The art of oratory is an entirely different beast.

First you have the fear of public speaking to get over (if you’re inflicted with this, the most common of fears) and then of course you have to have something 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.

My transcriptionist tells me I say ‘In other words’ a lot. I believe I do this for two reasons.

One is that I’m always trying to deliver information in as many ways as I can so that I am able to gain the understanding of as many people as possible.

The second reason. . .I don’t use the word ‘um’ and I think ‘in other words’ is taking the place of ‘um’ in my language patterns.

There’s a great new book out called Um. . . Slips, Stumbles and Verbal Blunders and What They Mean by Michael Erard. One of the most interesting things I’ve read so far in ‘Um. . .’ is that this is a universal. All languages have their own version of ‘um’ (in Spain it’s ‘eh’, in France ‘euh’) and the use of this filler has been around since at least as far back as the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

It’s only been since the twentieth century that ‘um. . .’ has become unpopular with academics and teachers, most likely coinciding with television and radio.

‘Um. . .’ (the book) starts out with the transcriptionists of the Federal News Service (FNS). 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 George W. ‘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.

My suggestion this week: pay attention to the way you talk. See how many ums, uhs, false starts, stumbles, gaffes and blunders you make verbally.

And pay attention to the way other people talk. Is there a secretary in your office who uses ‘like’ every other word, or an associate who constantly stumbles? How do you perceive them?

Language is a critical part of persuasion and the ums, uhs, and other fillers ‘say something’ to your prospect when you verbalize them. Keep that in mind when you are persuading the affluent.

Until Next Time,

Kenrick E. Cleveland

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
Jack Ford - September 26, 2007

Hey Kenrick,

“My suggestion this week: pay attention to the way you talk. See how many ums, uhs, false starts, stumbles, gaffes and blunders you make verbally.”

Excellent suggestion. I learned to be cognizant of those errors when I used to attend my local Toastmaster’s meetings. I improved quickly.

Here’s one tactic that has worked for me and it can work for your readers too who might need some help : Pay your spouse/friend/business partner $10 for every one of those errors you make. If you’re not comfortable with it, then just record yourself and listen for those errors. You’ll become aware of them and improve almost overnight.


Gilles - October 16, 2007

Hi Kenrick:
As always very interesting topic even though it is about not saying anything useful. As an alternate to ‘um’ I am training myself to say something like “Let me see” or “Let me think a moment”.
I think a pause allows you to have a moment to think about what you are going to say.
For people, like myself, coming up with answers on the spur of the moment often requires some mental search.



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