As Project Managers, we need to influence and persuade without authority. What does that leave: just our personal presence and our words. Here are ten ways to use language so people listen, take note, and act on what you say. I offer you ten Power Words.
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I want to introduce you to some of the ways you can use language powerfully to get attention, hold attention, and make use of that attention. Words matter – and so does how you use them.
These tips will serve you well in spoken and written language: in formal and in informal situations.
Arguably, because is the most powerful word in the English language. It answers the most powerful, profound, and frequently asked question: ‘why?’. And we all ask this question continuously, although, unlike small children, we rarely articulate it out loud. But such is our need for meaning, that without a clear ‘because’, we will not be motivated to believe, agree, or act on something.
Humankind is a story-telling creature, and the story form gives enormous power to our language. Audiences from one person to the millions who see films will be entranced by them: they package up meaning, explanation, emotion, empathy, excitement, and narrative. They compel us to listen, persuade us through demonstration, and have the power to move us to tears, to laughter. and to action.
Aristotle knew this: your character gives you the right to be heard, your facts give you the right to be believed, but the emotions you conjure are what govern how your audience will behave. Do not be afraid of well-chosen emotional language, because when it supports your argument, it stimulates the choices you want.
Pictures are a language in themselves and can relay more than words ever can. But if it is words that you have available to you, use them to paint pictures, sketch out images, and color-in the world for your audience. Martin Luther King combined emotions and pictures with phenomenal power.
The patterns of language you use can stimulate behavior, as orators know well. Watch the speeches of senior politicians at the conferences this autumn and see how the audience knows when to clap, from the patterns and rhythms of the speaker’s words. Poor speakers, of course, sometimes accidentally discover the hypnotic language patterns that trigger a trance.
Your choice between you or I, us, or you, me or we can make a big difference in how people respond to your words. Use we, us, and our when you want to create a sense of shared responsibility, complicity, or mutual support, use I, my, or me when you want to be clear that you are taking responsibility for your words and deeds, and use you, your, and yours when you want to put the focus on your audience, who will often find me, me, me very dull.
Compare: ‘if you read to the end of this newsletter…’ with ‘when you get to the end of this newsletter…’. The second version presupposes that you will and is more likely to encourage action because it expresses expectation and confidence. People tend to do what we expect of them – especially if the effort needed is low. So, expect the actions you desire.
However, ‘if you don’t read to the end of this newsletter, you will miss the best tip of all…’ sets up a fear that you will lose something valuable – and psychologists have shown that fear of loss is a powerful motivator indeed. That is why the word ‘guarantee’ has great power too – it removes the fear and makes your audience feel safe in your hands.
Humans crave instant gratification often trading a better return in the future for a lesser one now. So, the words ‘now, instant, immediate’ are often used by advertisers to not only satisfy that desire but to hint that competitors cannot do so.
Most people are attracted to novelty – think of the excitement around the announcement of a new gadget… and the disappointment if it does not have enough new features (the iPhone 5S, for example). New carries with it the veneer of excitement and the chance to be first. But we also like trusted and proven because they take away some sense of risk. New and trusted… that was why people flocked to buy early iPhones. Now other brands are just reliable, and the novelty is wearing off… Time to innovate.
… and one more thing:
You have had your ten tips, but what if I throw in an extra one? Now it feels special. The ‘one more thing’ factor creates privilege to the final tip, the extra convincer in an argument, or that last sweetener to a deal. It is why the PS of your letters and emails will always get read.
‘How to Speak so People Listen’?
When I was younger, I sometimes felt I could not get my ideas heard. They were good ideas and I expressed them clearly, but was often frustrated by my lack of impact. It made me miserable and sometimes angry. Does the same thing happen to you too? And how do you feel when it does?
That’s why I wrote ‘How to Speak so People Listen’. In it, you will learn how to be heard in conversations and in meetings, and when you speak in public. How would you feel if you had an opportunity to be heard and you lost it through not understanding the basics of good communication?
The book is based on a lifetime of experience and research and puts together a wealth of ideas in a new and distinctive way.
Recommended Videos to Help with Power Words and Influencing
Carefully curated video recommendations for you:
- 7 Ways to Become a More Influential Project Manager | Video
- How to Communicate Big Ideas with Maximum Impact | Video
- Project Communication: Stop Using Telegrams – Get Better Project Results | Video
- How to Build a Great Project Communications Plan | Video
- Challenging Communication Tips for Better Project Communication | Video
- True Authority: Top 10 Ways to Convince Others You Know what You are Talking about
- Talk is cheap… or is it? | Video
Recommended Articles to Help with Power Words and Influencing
- A Thorough Introduction to Persuasion and Influence
- Effective Speaking: How to Speak so People Listen
- Project Management Presentations: The 3 Expert Elements for a Great One
- 12 Simple Tips that will Give You Amazing Professional Presence
What Kit does a Project Manager Need?
I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own.
Note that the links are affiliated.
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For more of our videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management.