Use Powerful Picture-Building Words to Hold Interest

February 25, 2013

Dale Carnegie knew that the most powerful way of building interest among people you’re speaking to is often all but ignored. That is the process of using words that create pictures in the listener’s mind. Indeed, the speaker who is easy to listen to is the one who sets images floating before your eyes. The one who employs foggy, commonplace, colorless symbols sets the audience to nodding. It would be almost as difficult to ignore a talk full of picture-building words as it would be to pay not the slightest attention to the scenes from a film unwinding on the silver screen.

Herbert Spencer, in his famous essay on the Philosophy of Style, pointed out the superiority of terms that call forth vivid pictures in the listener’s mind when he said, “We do not think in generals, but in particulars.”

Picture-building phrases swarm through the pages of the Bible and through Shakespeare. For example, a commonplace writer would have said that a certain thing would be “superfluous,” like trying to improve the perfect. How did Shakespeare express the same thought? With a picture phrase that is immortal: “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw perfume on the violet.”

And did you ever pause to observe that the proverbs that are passed on from generation to generation are almost all visual sayings? “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” “It never rains, but it pours.” “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” It is the same with similes that have lived on for centuries, too: “Sly as a fox.” “Dead as a door nail.” “Flat as a pancake.” “Hard as a rock.”

They are all words and phrases that immediately elicit an image. Keep this in mind not only when you present to a group of listeners, but also when engaging in one-on-one conversation. Your meaning will be clearly understood, and you’ll be remembered as a particularly engaging speaker!

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