Harrison Ford famously said to George Lucas, during the filming of Star Wars, “George, you can type this sh*t, but you sure as hell can’t say it.” Ford is a classically trained actor, has appeared in numerous movies that have made billions of dollars, and even he’s had trouble with the dialogue he’s given.
We see this problem crop up a lot in business presentations, many (if not most) given by people who don’t hold a SAG card. What we’ll call the Harrison Ford problem occurs in two distinct flavors, both of them as lethal as a blaster and as cutting as a whip.* The first is the script flavor. People given words to say that just don’t sound real, whether by marketing, their boss or some other well-meaning coach, the presentation stalls because the words don’t just match the way the presenter would naturally say them. The second flavor is the sagacity flavor. Unlike the script this is usually self-inflicted. Adding big words or terms of art, because it makes you sound smarter.
4 tips for “Real” words.
Philosophers in the room might wonder what we mean by “Real” Words. (And why the air quotes?) “All words are real” you might say. True. Pedantics in the room will point out that if it’s in the dictionary, it must count. Digital natives will allow a red squiggly line to be the judge. Here’s what we mean. There’s an epidimec of antiseptic corporate speak. Weasel words, jargon monoxide. Corporate PigLatin.
We’re trying to choose and use words that are Correct. Simple. Emotional. Visual.
Correct in that if you are talking about a mushroom, call it a mushroom. Not a squirrel. If you’re talking about video, call it video, not media. If you’re talking about a problem, call it a problem, not a challenge.
Simple has a simple standard. Would your average 8-yr old understand it? Reduce the words to a minimum to get understanding. Use, not utilize. A clicker, not an URC (Universal Remote Control). Unpack the acronyms and throttle back on the terms of art.
Correct and simple are the minimum. Here’s what to strive for.
Use a word that gets a reaction, like fierce, rather than one that washes over you, like clinical. They also create a different perception. In one classic experiment**, a group of students were shown a series of car accidents. When asked how fast the cars were going when they contacted one another, the estimate was thirty-two miles per hour. If asked how fast when they smashed into one another, the estimate increased to forty miles per hour.
This is worth 1000 times than a sound-byte because it’s a picture painted with words. It creates an experience or a picture in the mind’s eye, like Champagne taste and Beer budget. Bikini Chart. Infobesity. Boots on the ground.
Next time you’re faced with a business presentation, and you want to make it compelling, remember Harrison. Make it real.
* I know – stop it with the lame in-jokes and visual puns. I’ll try.
**Loftus and Palmer, (1974) Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.