Power Words
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by Kurt Mortensen

We know certain words have more pull than others, but who would have thought that simple words like "because" and "and" would have the power to move mountains?

It is best to assume that with spoken language, simple is better than complex. Since we are unable to recapture or replay our spoken words, we hope that they will be correctly interpreted the first time they are heard. Unfortunately, spoken words can be the most misread and misinterpreted form of communication, and therefore, can be a great hindrance to effective persuasion.

In a study by Langer, Blank, and Chanowitz, researchers found certain word choices could influence people to act against their own self-interests. The researcher would approach a copier where a long line of students stood. She would try three different word choices at different times to see how the other students would respond to each request. She didn’t change what she was asking, only the word choice. When she said, "Excuse me, I only have five pages. May I use the copy machine because I am in a rush?" 94 percent complied. When she said, "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copy machine?" 60 percent complied. But when she said, "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copy machine because I have to make some copies?" 93 percent complied. The magic was in the word "because." Even when she used an obvious reason, for example, just to make copies, she had a higher compliance. The word "because" is very powerful. "Because" prepares the mind for a reason. Even if the reason is not legitimate, it is still a reason.

Perhaps one of the most valuable words to learn how to use is "you." When you use the word "you" instead of a more general word like, “people," there is a stronger sense of identity. Your listener will be more tuned in to what you are saying.

On the other hand, the one word that will impede your ability to persuade is "but." "But" negates everything you said before it. We all know the drill, "I love you, but…"or "I want to help, but…." The word "but" puts the brake on persuasion. Practice your vocabulary and use the word "and" in your persuasive communication instead of "but." Another simple change is to use the word "can" instead of "could." For example, say "Can you carry this for me?" instead of "Could you carry this for me?" Similarly, it is better to use "will" than "would" and better to use "try" than "do."

Often in day-to-day living we find ourselves in circumstances where we need to direct, delegate, or even order. Usually our assignments are just short sentences, such as "Can you please do this or that?" You can create unity and alliance and lessen defensiveness when you use "let’s" in place of "you," even when that individual, not you, is really going to be the one carrying the duty out. For example, "Let’s be sure and get this out in the mail today, okay?" It’s such a simple thing, yet you will find it works wonders. Make a habit of using the word "let’s," and you will find more cooperation.

Following are some simple guidelines to keep your speech and verbal packaging on the right track.

  • Don’t use jargon or technical language unless you are sure every member of your audience understands the meaning.
  • Don’t use profanity or slang. In general, using profanity damages your credibility.8 Be sensitive to whatever language your audience might find offensive, profanity or otherwise. Avoid name-calling and other forms of abusive language.
  • Speak in everyday language. You want your audience to relate to you and to feel as comfortable with you as possible. Use language that will make you seem familiar and easy to follow.
  • Keep your language simple and clear.
  • Keep your sentences short. Use as few words as possible unless you are painting the picture--just one idea at a time.
  • Use words that will engage the audience. Use "you," "we," "us," and even "I" if you are relating a personal experience.
  • Don’t use vague and abstract words. They muddle your meaning and confuse your listener.
  • Don’t talk down to your listener by using pompous and pretentious words. Be direct; don’t bluff or beat around the bush.
  • Use verb-driven language. By using verb-driven language, you will arouse a greater sense of action and motivation. Using these kinds of verbs will make your statement more convincing because your audience will engage their emotions, consciously and subconsciously. Verbs that are abstract or overused do not communicate excitement.

With so many words in the English language to pick from, you must be very particular about which ones to use. Some will grab attention more than others. The following sixteen words are commonly used to effectively sell a product:

1. Benefit
2. Money
3. Easy
4. New*
5. Free*
6. Now
7. Fun
8. Proven
9. Guarantee
10. Results
11. Health
12. Safe
13. How to
14. Save
15. Love
16. You/Your

Among all those on the list, the word "free" always gets attention anytime it is used. Suppose you were in charge of designing and wording the fliers your company is planning to send out in three weeks. Which phrase would you use?

1. Half price!
2. Buy one--Get one free!
3. 50 percent off!

Each of the three denotes the exact same offer, but the second phrase is the most effective. In fact, studies have shown that phrases using the word "free" outsell other phrases stating the exact same thing, only in different terms, by 40 percent!

About the author: Kurt Mortensen’s trademark is Magnetic Persuasion; you should attract customers, like a magnet.
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