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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to Make Your Words Memorable, Part 2

by Lisa B. Marshall

Wait, what did we talk about last week? Oh, yeah, that’s right…people forget stuff! That’s why this week we’re picking up with the second part of how to make your words more memorable. If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, it’s helpful to read that first.

 Last week the main point that I covered (besides the fact that forgetting was natural and normal) was the use of repetition. By repeating key ideas and phrases, you help to bolster learning with the goal of making the key words memorable. I used an example from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech:

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 life our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

But, I was a little sneaky because this example also uses a second technique for making your words memorable—word pictures. 

Tip #3: Paint Word Pictures

MLK’s word choices painted images in the minds of listeners. In the Chris Gardner speech I mentioned last week, he also painted many word pictures. In case you don’t recall, Chris Gardner was the man who went from homeless to Wall Street success. His story was chronicled in the Will Smith film The Pursuit of Happyness. Since making it big, Gardner has delivered many speeches. Here’s one of his observations about being homeless that stood out for me: “The guy making $80,000 a year was strutting around like the NBC peacock, but he stockbroker in the red Ferrari making $80,000 a month was rolling like a rock star.” The words paint a picture, providing important contrast which makes Gardner’s words more memorable.

 In general, analogies and metaphors are an effective way to paint word pictures. An analogy is just a comparison between two, often dissimilar, things. A metaphor is an expression of a concept in terms of another concept.

These figures of speech are particularly useful when explaining complex ideas because they can explain what you’re trying to say quickly and efficiently (especially when the thing you make the comparison to is well-known by the audience). They are extremely powerful when they are memorable and meaningful. Chris Gardner used the following analogy: “I decided I was going to become world class at something. The chaos of Wall Street, to me, was like reading a sheet of music. This is where I am supposed to be.” Where others saw chaos, he heard music. Great analogy.

Tip #4: Tell Stories 

In fact, analogies are best when used as part of a larger personal story. The more your audience can relate to the feelings and values of the story, the more memorable it will be for them. Stories are how we learn from each other’s experiences. Stories are how we naturally communicate our ideas, values, and goals. Gardner told financial stories; tales from white-collar poverty: “With every dollar that came in, I had to make a choice. Pay the parking ticket, or pay the rent,” he explained to his rapt audience.

Tip #5: Use Surprising Facts

Analogies often help provide emotional support for your story, however, you’ll also want to include factual support; the more startling or unusual, the better. We tend to remember things that are unexpected or surprising.

Chris Gardner shared this interesting fact: “At this point in the 21st century, as many as 30% of homeless adults in America have jobs and go to work every day.” The 9,000 members of the audience suddenly looked at the people sitting next to them differently. I will remember, possibly forever, that statistic and how still the room suddenly felt. It had a dramatic affect on both the hearts and minds of the audience and that’s your goal when telling stories. 

Tip #6: Choose Universal Themes

We tend to remember things that we can relate to. For Chris Gardner, his stories were about a universal theme—personal relationships. He said: “I grew up without a dad, but with a stepfather who daily reminded me ‘I ain’t your daddy.’ So when people ask me about the most important thing I can do with my life, I tell them: it’s to break the cycle of men who were not there for their children.” Poetically, when Oprah asked Gardner’s son about the one thing he remembered about this time in his life, he answered, “Everywhere I looked, my father was there.”

If you want your presentation to be memorable, it’s critical to repeat key phrases, to paint word pictures, and to tell stories with universal themes. Be sure to sprinkle in analogies, metaphors, and surprising facts. If you want others to act on your words, it’s important to follow these tips to make your ideas memorable, powerful, and easily sharable with others.



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