The Winning Voice

Best in class communication techniques from Michael Kelly

Power is like scissors, because . . .

Power is like scissors, because if you’re not careful with power, it can cut people to bits.

The focus this week is on practical ways of making your language richer, memorable and less stale.

The sentence above – which I heard a number of years ago and still remember – uses the literary devices of ‘similie‘ and ‘contrast‘.

The sentence was constructed by taking an abstract noun, ‘Power’ and contrasting it with the concrete noun, ‘Scissors’.

Here is a list of abstract nouns and of concrete nouns. Print out the lists. Play around with pairing various abstract nouns with various concrete nouns.

I did this exercise a few weeks ago, and after just ten minutes of pairing, I came up with the following sentences:

  • (‘Pride’ and ‘whale’) ‘A person with too much pride is like a whale. All full of blubber.’
  • (‘Success’ and ‘chilli) ”Success is like a hot chilli. Too much of it, can give you a stinging burn’.
  • (‘Dream’ and ‘arrow’) ‘A dream is like an arrow. The sharper it is, the better its chance of happening.’

Now, I’m not suggesting these are literary gems. However, with minimal effort, I was able to construct them. You too, can do this – and make your speaking fresher.

Now, some of you may be thinking, if this exercise will be profitable. Will it be worth the effort?

Here is my answer.

‘the spoken word wisely chosen, beats the heck out of a slick brochure’.

Injecting literary devices in your speaking can help you ‘beat the heck out of brochures’ and out of other speakers that are competing for the limited attention of your listener, in a noisy world.

Literary devices, such as metaphors, are also generative, and can have long lasting effect.

Consider this passage on pp. 60-61 of the stellar book, Made to Stick, by Dan and Chip Heath.

‘Good metaphors are “generative”. The psychologist Donald Schon introduced this term to describe metaphors that generate “new perceptions, explanations, and inventions . . . For example, Disney calls its employees, ‘cast members’. This metaphor of employees as cast members in a theatrical production is communicated consistently throughout the organisation:

  • Cast members don’t interview for a job, they audition for a role. 
  • When they are walking around the park, they are onstage.
  • Jobs are performances; uniforms are costumes.

The theatre metaphor is immensely useful for Disney employees . . . Having them (the employees) think of themselves as cast members is a generative metaphor (that is, it generates how the employees should act*) that has worked for Disney for more that fifty years.’

Metaphors have been immensely useful and have paid off for Disney for 50+ years. How useful might they be for you?


Own the Conversation

Over the next seven days, pre-commit to block out 10 minutes to experiment with combining abstract with concrete nouns. (See links above). Set a goal to come up with one similie/contrast that you might use in your speaking. Then consider when and how you could use the expression in a safe interaction.


(*my addition.)

p.s Here is a 2:54 minute audio clip where former New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr, describes the speakers he likes including B. Obama and F. Roosevelt.

Here is the link to the track.

p.p.s. Allow me an observation: Why is Google – when you do a search – still listing the quantity of items and the time it took to get them. How insecure are they? Are they trying to impress me?

‘Google, we get it! You’re very fast and very comprehensive in your searches. Wow, 6,270,000 results in .66 seconds. I’m impressed! Alright . . . you’ve convinced me . . . I’ll search with you.’

p.p.p.s. Here is a link to a video clip of a 10 minute presentation, entitled, Own the Conversation that I delivered at an American Chamber of Commerce event a couple of weeks ago. It might interest you.

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