10 Language Techniques To Use In Presentations (Part 2)
Great leaders use Power Language to grab audience interest and to be persuasive. There are ten core Power Language techniques that they use to create stand-out talks and presentations.
Using the same techniques, you can make your public speaking more engaging, memorable and persuasive.
Remember that these techniques are specific to spoken language, which requires different skills to written language. Words that are effective when read on a page don’t have the same impact when spoken, and vice versa.
Some of these techniques can be used to structure your talk or presentation, while others should be used sparingly. Like seasoning in a meal, they should add subtle flavour without being overly pungent.
So, refer back to these ten techniques (first 5 in previous post) when you are planning your next talk or presentation. Once you have identified your audience and clarified your messages, swap out any bland language and sprinkle in these Power Language techniques instead:
Present a puzzle or problem
Choose phrases with alliteration
Group information into sets of three
Use rhetorical questions
Use rhyme (sparingly)
Repeat and restate your messages
Use contrasting pairs
Explain new concepts by using metaphors, similes and analogies
Stick to short words or phrases
Replace impersonal pronouns with ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’
6. Repeat and restate your messages
You can use repetition in both your words and your messages.
Rhythmic repetition is a repeated word or phrase that’s used in the same place in multiple sentences. It can bring a poetic touch to your spoken language, and improves the structure and flow of your presentation. For example, think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech:
“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
Familiarity breeds trust when it comes to repeated messages. Present your message to the audience early on, so those ideas start to feel familiar when you restate them in slightly different ways later. Comedians use this technique all the time. They tell a joke at the start, then refer back to it and build on it throughout their show. It’s a great way to bring the audience with you and make it easy for them to follow what you’re trying to say.
In 2010, Steve Jobs held an emergency press conference about the antenna in the iPhone 4. He repeated the phrase “We want to make all our users happy” several times. His slides used variants of the message ‘we love our users’, words which Jobs echoed in his conclusion. This ‘love’ was picked up and reported on by the media covering the event.
Prompt your audience’s recall
The persuasive impact of repetition is even stronger when you prompt your audience to retrieve your message from their memory. For example, you could refer to something you said earlier, but restate just enough of it for people to identify and recall the rest for themselves. Or you could show a heading or an image from a previous slide to prompt a visual flashback.
7. Use contrasting pairs
To be effective at public speaking you need to hold an audience’s attention. Creating tension is a great way to do this, as with setting out a puzzle or problem in technique #1. Contrasting pairs create tension between two opposites. You could ask ‘Are you with us or not?’ but it’s much more powerful to say, ‘You’re either with us, or against us’.
Contrasting pairs can also clarify your position by stating clearly what you are arguing against, as well as what you are arguing for.
When Richard Branson wanted to highlight the value of trying, failing and starting over, he said:
“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”
This technique can be used on a macro scale as well. In Nancy Duarte’s TED talk (at 6.45mins), she shows how many of the greatest speakers contrast ‘what is’ with ‘what could be’. This is repeated over and again, providing a subtle underlying structure to their talks and presentations.
8. Explain new concepts by using metaphors, similes and analogies
Comparing something to a different thing can help your audience to understand and visualise it. This is especially true if you are explaining something abstract or unfamiliar, or want to express a thought or feeling powerfully.
Metaphors, similes and analogies are all ways to achieve this. Even a subtle metaphor can have a substantial impact on how a person perceives an issue and makes a decision, according to researchers.
Steve Jobs used a metaphor when he referred to Apple’s switch to different processors at the MacWorld keynote speech in 2007 (0:01:03). He called it ‘a huge heart transplant to Intel microprocessors’.
And when JCPenny’s CEO wanted to explain where his company’s strategy had gone woefully wrong, he used a dating analogy. This excerpt is from his speech at the 2015 WWD Apparel & Retail CEO Summit in New York City:
“Let’s go back to high school and imagine that you dated the same wonderful girl for three years, and all of a sudden, when the prom is going up, you decide that she’s no longer good enough … so you make a play for the homecoming queen, and the homecoming queen says, ‘no thank you,’ and so you end up going to the prom [alone]. JCPenney had a customer that loved us, and we said to the customer, ‘we don’t like you anymore.’ We said we like that customer. We made a play for that customer, and that customer said, ‘we don’t like you very much.’”
9. Stick to short words and phrases
Spoken language is most easily digested when delivered in bitesized chunks. Yet our businesses, strategies and communications all tend to be complex. So when you come to deliver a talk or presentation, it’s all too easy to confuse your audience.
Simplify as much as you can. As Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”. Separate out long sentences into shorter ones, and avoid sub-clauses or complex sentence constructions.
Use short, common words instead of longer ones. Although people tend to think that the use of jargon or unusual words will impress others, the reverse was found to be true.
In fact, the easier your talk or presentation is to process, the more your audience will infer you as having qualities such as confidence, intelligence and capability. That’s according to research by Daniel M. Oppenheimer, professor of psychology at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
In a Q&A with Gallup Business Journal, Former CEO & Chairman Douglas Conant demonstrated his great use of short, sharp sentences:
“The packaged food business environment is very Darwinian. You’re fighting for survival every year; you evolve and grow or you die. It’s really that simple.”
10. Replace impersonal pronouns with ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’
Great speakers involve their audience in their talks and presentations by making it personal. For example, you may recognise these: ‘We are gathered here today…’, ‘Ask not what you can do for your country…’ and ‘I have a dream’.
Researchers found that using personal pronouns motivates people to learn, and makes that learning more enjoyable. There could be a financial value, too: in another study, researchers found that using personal pronouns in a phone call increased the chance that a prospective investor would agree to invest.
So instead of talking about ‘the company’s’ targets next quarter, talk about what ‘we’ want to achieve. Instead of talking about what a new widget does for ‘people’, talk about what it will change in ‘your’ life or ‘our’ lives. Take ownership for your thoughts, opinions and stories by starting them with the word ‘I’.
Here’s an example of repeated personal pronoun use by Marc Randolph, Netflix Co-Founder and Angel Investor:
“Your idea is a bad one, your idea is wrong. You don’t know how or why yet, but until you put the idea out there and see it collide with the real world, you won’t know what direction to go.”
(This article was published with permission from the authors, Benjamin Ball Associates. I can vouch for the quality of their communication training from personal experience.)