Speak English Like It Tastes Good
by Kare Anderson
Author & Speaker
Dusk settled coolly over the vineyards in Napa Valley, California, one fall evening. Through the window, I gazed wistfully at a thin stream of bittersweet chocolate sauce a waiter was ladling high over a raspberry-colored cake at the table of a hand-holding couple, inside the big stone restaurant operated by the Culinary Institute of America. I knew it was bittersweet chocolate because the rich smell was drifting through the French doors out onto the patio, where we were drinking a fine Cakebread cabernet next to
two giggling toddlers, just as happily chewing red licorice twists from the local 7-11 store.
"See" the picture? Here's the pity. As adults, we tend to lose our "picture-making" way of speaking. We forget to tell the story that tells the story. We've gradually forgotten how to speak English like it tastes
good, even when we desperately want people to remember what we are saying. Our conversations often begin with sweeping generalizations. To further numb people, we talk about "work" by using longer sentences, full of jargon that even colleagues won't remember the way they'd remember everyday
language wrapped around an example.
Unlike most children under the age of 12 or so, we adults offer qualifiers and chronology before we finally get to the delicious details that are most involving, credible, and evocative. By then, even well-intentioned
listeners have taken several mental vacations. Think of the speeches, advertisements, and conversations you most remember. Didn't the words evoke some visual experience?
Let ideas roll around in your mouth like a good merlot. The specific detail proves the general conclusion. It's also more credible and memorable. The generality fades quickly. For several years, many ad campaigns featured a group photo of "diverse" people, with some variation of this headline: "We Are the People Who Care." Banks, insurance companies, hospitals, and other large institutions thus offered a generality that perpetuated their impersonal image instead of promising some specific service, guarantee, or customer story that proved how they were better than the competition.
Avoid gray generalities. Speak in Technicolor. Say less, better. Make your most important truths well-told -- how you describe those who matter most to you, or your job, product, program, cause, or idea. Ironically, because you are so close to these topics, and care and know so much about them, you are most likely to speak generally about them than you do about a recent, negative incident you've experienced. And, as Adlai Stevenson once said, "When you throw mud, you get dirty."
Whoever most vividly characterizes a situation or person usually determines how others see it, discuss it, and decide on it. If your description is more interesting than another's, even if that person has more money,
smarts, or power to push his message, others are more likely to recall and repeat yours. Even those who disagree are likely to use your description as they talk about their disagreement. Think how influential you are when you thus speak English like it tastes good.
Become more memorable by saying it better next time in one or more of these specific ways:
©1999 by Kare Anderson. All rights reserved.
Kare Anderson is a behavioral futurist who speaks and writes about "Say It Better" methods of thoughtful communication, conflict resolution, cross-promotion and outreach, and multisensory techniques to create more memorable on-site experiences. An Emmy-winning former TV commentator, Wall Street Journal reporter she’s a national columnist in 98 monthly magazines (from Gourmet Retailer to Broadcast Engineering), nine-time author ( Getting What You Want, Pocket Cross-Promotions, Make Yourself Memorable, Beauty Inside Out, Cutting Deals With Unlikely Allies, Resolving Conflict Sooner . .
.) and publisher of the "Say It Better" online newsletter now read by over 17,000 people in 32 countries, which is available free when you sign the guest book at her web site at www.sayitbetter.com. Anderson is the co-founder of The Compelling Communications Group
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