Just like some acid trips are better than others, there are words that are better than other words, too. Therefore, word choice is a hell of a drug.
I wrote a chapter about the importance of using the right words in my book The Perfectionist’s Guide To Public Speaking, and in this post I’m going to build on it.
We’re going to talk about POWER words. Namely, how do you know when you’ve come across a power word? What to do with it when you do? What’s the difference between a power word and the other crap? And where can you find these power words?
But first, a reminder I like to use to determine if I’ve got the right word or not is this: If our brain can complete a pattern, it will.
This means that if we can guess or anticipate the next words out of someone’s mouth, we will. Either out loud or in our heads. Occasionally during a conversation, I’ll find myself consciously trying to complete the thought of what someone else is saying before they say it. I admit, not the best conversational skill, but it illustrates my point.
You can see the problem—in advance. If a speaker is predictable, the audience is no longer hanging on his or her every word. We want the audience to listen to us. If you can avoid being predictable, you’ll keep the audience interested in what you’re saying.
What makes speech predictable? It’s those clichés, common axioms, overused quotations, and just boring words in general.
Power words are the answer. Let's get started...
How Do You Spot Power Words?
You know you’ve got a power word when you yourself react with an emotional response when you hear it. It creates an internal knee-jerk reaction. Or, maybe it simply arouses curiosity. Something happens.
The fact is, a powerful word will jolt you. One way to describe it could be that the the power word helps connect you to some preconceived thought, feeling, or emotion that you already have stored in your mind.
Just to be clear, power words are not inherently good or bad. Some of what I’d call power words are likely to be associated as “bad,” such as a shitface or other vulgar words. But again, it’s a power word because it would probably get a rise out of most people.
Let’s take the words “unconditional love.” Is that not also a powerful duo in it's own regard? Even more so than if you used "love" on its own.
I will admit, though, it is more difficult to find power words that are all warm and cuddly.
On the other end of the spectrum we have political correctness, which is word genocide that’s killing off an entire culture of words—power words. Again, I’m not saying words can’t be used as daggers, especially in a malicious context. Death threats being a simplistic example.
However, there is a serious threat to what is “allowed” to be said nowadays, and it’s getting ridiculous. But that’s an article for another time...
Imagine a media outlet has a story about a “conspiracy theorist,” what image comes to your mind? It might conjure up images of a crazy person living in their mother’s basement and reviewing news clippings about the JFK assassination. That is a power word(s).
What about a “kook”? Same thing. It gives me a strong picture of what is trying to be conveyed (the dude ain't to be trusted!).
So that's what power words are. It's time to open your eyes to them!
Creating Your Own Power Word Database
When you come across power words, the ones that evoke an image in your mind, write them down! This will become your power words' savings account, and you should deposit as often as you can.
What kind of words am I talking about?
Here are just a few examples:
-Murder or assassinate
-Smear, Slam, or Rip (as in...The President smears the English Prime Minister)
-Chilling (Turning in a mob boss has chilling consequences)
-Fuming or pissed off
-Mountain (as in...A mountain of gold)
Compare those words to their weaker synonyms and you'll begin to see a major difference.
As I collect power words, I like to break them down into a couple main categories. One is “positive” and the other is “negative.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. In fact, I find that the “negative” words seem to be more rampant. Who doesn’t like a bit of drama, right?
What it does mean is that one of them has a positive connotation and the other is a bit more mischievous. Both categories are still classified as power words. Using the word examples listed above, “cheated” would be under the “negative” category, “gorgeous” would go under the “positive” category.
Neutral words like “mountain” would go in the “positive” section as well. For simplicity’s sake I use just those two categories; you can take it further and make even more specific categories like “descriptive words” or “fightin’ words.” The possibilities are endless as far as categorizing. Simple is your friend, though.
You will use this list in the future when it comes time to build your speech. Simply reference them when you sit down to construct your masterpiece.
Next we'll see where to look so you can continue to add to the list.
Where To Find Power Words To Add To Your Database?
You can find them anywhere, TV shows, movies, comedy shows, random conversations, other speakers, newspapers, articles, etc. You’re bound to come across power words throughout your daily life.
That’s the easy part.
The hard part is being on the lookout for them, or simply being able to notice them when you do encounter them.
One more downside to finding them through those methods above is that it’s hit or miss. We don’t know when someone is going to blast us in the face with a power word. But don’t worry, there’s a better way.
You can become the hunter. To do that you must go to the hunting grounds and hunt!
Remember this special word: Headlines! That’s where the gold is mined.
Below are 4 of the best places to go mining:
Also, pretty much any website dedicated to politics is going be a breeding ground for power words.
When you’re in need of a word, go to those sites and just skim the headlines. Screw the articles dammit! Headlines, headlines, headlines!
I will caution against going there too often because there’s a chance you may desensitize yourself to the aura of power words. If that happens, it makes spotting them more difficult. Think about it like this, if all the words are powerful, soon nothing will be powerful.
And that’s that.
Pinch it off...
I say that there is a time and place for power words, and public speaking is one of them.
It’s easy to play it safe with weenee words. It’s a defense against “offending” others so they don't hit you in the nose with a shovel.
By all means keep your nose in tact, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’ll be boring. That's a choice you'll have to make for yourself.
In this article I've given you an alternative path. Use it or don't use it, but don't you dare say I never gave you anything!
About this guy...
Howdy! My name is Matt Kramer and I used to suffer excruciating death when speaking in front of a group, now I LOVE it. Overcoming this fear has changed my life and it can change yours, too. My focus is to help you overcome the fear of public speaking so you can build the confidence to go after what you want in life.