What do Winston Churchill and Lady Gaga Know that You Don’t?
They know (knew) how to use rhetoric to send the strongest and longest lasting messages. Now you can learn the secrets of the great communicators such as Jesus Christ, Shakespeare, Lincoln, Lady Gaga, Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan, and others by reading Joseph Romm’s latest book titled: Language Intelligence: Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga.
Rhetoric in this case does not mean the most commonly thought of definition where you envision a political animal gushing forth with a diatribe of nonsense (picturing Rush Limbaugh now?) but instead, the more formal definition which is “the art or science of effective use of language.”
Romm takes us on a history tour and shows us why the greatest communicators have been the ones that worked hardest at improving their rhetoric. I was surprised to learn that Winston Churchill in his early twenties already understood the power of effective rhetoric. (At the same age I was more concerned with finding the best price on beer and wings! Rhetoric was off my radar.) While only 22 years old, Churchill wrote a manifesto in which he said,
“The influence exercised over the human mind by apt analogies is and has always been immense. Whether they translate and established truth into simple language or whether they adventurously aspire to reveal the unknown, they are among the most formidable weapons of the rhetorician. The effect upon the most cultivated audiences is electrical…One such will make a speech or mar a measure.”
The reader also learns that Lincoln studied Shakespearean orations in order to improve his speechmaking skills and would often argue for hours about the use of a single word in his or an opponent’s speech.
I was quite pleased to read that Romm places Bob Dylan and Lady Gaga into the category of rhetorical genius. Dylan has been my favorite song writer since I started really listening to his lyrics as a high school student and I am a huge fan of Lady Gaga – not only because her songs are “sticky” but her message is inspiring. P-P-P-P-Poker Face. Rhetoric is a big reason why these two messengers have such a huge following.
Romm gives up his secrets in this book just like the great poker player Doyle Brunson did with his landmark Super System that changed the game of Texas Hold ‘em. (The book was so good that Doyle had to completely change his game because he was getting beat by 18 year old Internet players who went to school on Brunson’s book.) So why is Romm divulging his secrets?
Romm is a strong advocate for immediate action to halt the oncoming freight train that is human-caused climate change. His blog, Climate Progress, is arguably the best climate-related blog on the web and there you can see how Romm uses powerful rhetoric to send his messages. Unfortunately, most scientists are hard-wired to make many of the mistakes Romm tries to steer the reader away from. On the other hand, the public relations evil geniuses that represent the fossil fuel industry have used the rhetoric playbook for years to beat our brains out on the football field that is public understanding of climate change. Romm is handing his playbook to you – climate communicators – in order to level that playing field.
Romm’s book is packed with powerful advice. A few are highlighted below:
- The title is probably more important than the content. Hey bloggers, your title is like the cover letter while your blog is the resume. A great cover letter means your resume will get a read. Bad letter = no read. Spice up those titles.
- Keep it simple! Avoid jargon and try to use one syllable words as often as possible. I recall a phone interview I did with a reporter at The Los Angeles Times. Afterward, the reporter said, “Thank you for talking to me so even a 12 year old could understand.” Big words impress few. Small words impress many.
- Tell a story! (This is a key point made by legendary actor Alan Alda who now spends his time teaching science students how to effectively communicate.)
- Use metaphors, similes, analogies, and irony to make your points. The brain is always trying to make connections and these rhetorical strategies help to cement those connections. Climate communicators can see many great examples at Climatebites.org.
- Repetition, repetition, repetition. One of the quotes that really stuck with me is one from Republican strategist and no friend of climate change, Frank Luntz:
“There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your audience has heard it for the first time.”
Reading this book is like taking steroids. If you are not a good communicator right now, after reading this book, you will be. If you are a good communicator right now, you will become a great one! Give yourself a legal injection of powerful rhetoric – read this book.
Heidi Cullen – Romm’s Book ‘Language Intelligence’ Insightful, Important
John Cook – Book review: Language Intelligence by Joe Romm