The texture of words

Chilean Fox Terrier
What is that magic air mover?
Words carry more than information. The words you choose change the texture, the flavor of the information. They change the way readers view the world.

For instance, my public speaking students frequently choose “Legalization of Marijuana” as a topic. (The fact that they have been choosing this topic for over 30 years says something about our nation, but that’s for another article.) The audience of college students has probably heard this discussed dozens of times in various settings. So I suggest instead they discuss “Relegalization of Marijuana.” That often makes audiences cock their heads, the way a dog looks at a ceiling fan. That recasting of the topic can completely change the way the speaker approaches the topic and the way the audience hears it.

Lesson from the kitchen

I saw this at work in my own kitchen. My wife and I have always been fans of the egg in almost all its forms. Fried, boiled, scrambled, omelet, quiche, eggs Benedict, egg custard—I can’t really think of a form we don’t like. We had never tried a frittata, and my wife bought me a special pan for making them. I had read about them, and thought the pan might be just a gimmick—after all, turning one in a regular skillet didn’t seem that difficult. But this two-sided pan facilitated the process, enabling turning the whole pan (actually two pans joined by a hinge) without risking ruining the integrity of the finished egg dish.

I tried it and loved it. I was sold.

I told my son, who had missed the original experiment, that we were going to have a frittata for supper.

“What’s that?” he said.

“You scramble eggs, stir in your ingredients like ham, cheese, and broccoli, fry it in a pan like a pancake, and turn it over.”

He looked skeptical. “So, it’s just a failed omelet?”

“What do you mean, failed omelet?”

“Sounds like an omelet that you couldn’t get to fold.”

I had not considered that, and it made me chuckle, but I also knew that if he kept thinking of it like that with his high standards for food he would likely not partake.

“It’s not a failed omelet,” I said. “It’s a crustless quiche.”

“Oh!” he said. His expression opened up. “That sounds pretty good!”

He’s not a big fan of eggs like his mom and I are, but he seemed to enjoy the frittata.

Claim your experience

Applying this principle can completely change the experience you have speaking.

My students learn that what they label “stage fright” before a speech is simply what they feel with adrenaline coursing through their veins. Back in high school, they might have felt the same thing just before the big game, but they said they were “up” for the game. The physical manifestation is exactly the same.

As they go through the course, they laugh about “having energy” and “being up for the speech,” but they have a completely different experience when they do.

It’s no longer something to get rid of; it’s something to harness.

Choose wisely

Think carefully about the words you choose when you speak to yourself, speak to others, or write. Those words can completely change your own experience and that of your audience.

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with people who want to forge top-notch speaking skills to increase their influence and impact so they can advance their career or business. He is associate professor of communication studies at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.