It’s time to brush up on your metaphors. Time to freshen up your presentation content. Time to break up with the clichés you’ve been using. Recent research tells us that tired language loses its ability to move us.

In order to keep our presentations and stories fresh, we need to understand the relationship between our brains and language. Our brains process information and create thought largely through an image-based system. Antonio Damasio puts it this way, “It is often said that thought is made of much more than just images, that it is made also of words and nonimage abstract symbols . . . but both words and arbitrary symbols are based on topographically organized representations and can become images. Most of the words we use in our inner speech, before speaking or writing a sentence, exist as auditory or visual images in our consciousness. If they did not become images, however fleetingly, they would not be anything we could know.”

So when we use or hear words that call up powerful imagery, our brains light up. The most powerful images are those with distinct emotional or sensory appeal. In order to elevate our stories, we need to make use of sensory-based language and avoid clichés.

Use Sensory-based Language

Recent studies in neuroscience have shown that the brain responds in similar ways whether we are listening to someone describe the smell of brownies that have just come out of the oven, or whether we are actually smelling brownies that have just come out of the oven. That’s good news for those of us who are speakers. That means that in order to make our presentations more experiential, we simply need to use more descriptive language.

When you tell a story, use language that allows the audience to access it fully with their senses. Like this,

INSTEAD OF: As many of you know, Theresa has been working to help us create a more pleasing office. When she came to us a few months back with her idea for an aesthetic makeover of the office, we were all ears.

TRY: Back in January, Theresa looked around the office and noticed pretty much everything was the color of oatmeal. Those bland surroundings encouraged her to take on an exciting project. When she created a plan to make the office feel less like a hospital and more like a family living room, we were intrigued. But when she laid out her research on the benefits for employee morale and productivity, we gave her the green light, a really bright and energetic one—not at all the color of oatmeal.

When you make an effort to use sensory-based language, the audience members become part of the story because their brains are processing the information as if they were actually living it. And they have something that sticks like, well, oatmeal.

Avoid Clichés

If I had simply ended with “we gave her the green light” in the story above, the language would have not had much impact. The brain might not have even seen the color green because we have the heard the phrase so many times that we know it means, “we gave her permission or the go-ahead.” That would have passed through the mind without any staying power because it’s something we’ve heard before. But instead, I attached a sticking point to make an old saying fresh by adding “a really bright and energetic one–not at all the color of oatmeal.” Plus, the language now serves more than one purpose. It not only tells the audience Theresa has been given permission to work on her project, it builds excitement about the colorful changes that will soon be added to the office.

The article “The 25 Most Annoying Business Phrases,” lists many of the more common clichés like, “think outside the box,” “hit the ground running,” or “bring your ‘A’ game.” When we hear these over and over, they lose their ability to move us. You can bet when the first person referenced an “800-lb. gorilla in the room,” it stuck with the audience. But after the 100th or 1,000th reference, we don’t care much about that same gorilla anymore.

It takes effort to use language that appeals to the senses while also avoiding the quicksand of clichés. It’s easier to simply use the first thing that comes to mind or to settle with a hackneyed expression. But presenting isn’t about doing what’s easy; it’s about doing whatever it takes to move your audience and to relay your message.

Need more tips on how to elevate your stories or freshen up your presentations? Ethos3 is here to help. Get in touch with our talented and dedicated team now.


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