Saturday, 21 May 2011

Persuasive Speaking Part 3 - Charm and Hex Words

To understand persuasive speaking you have to understand the power of words. If an advertisement for a food product claims it is “full of natural goodness” they are trying to make you believe the product is wholesome. The phrase is meaningless but it circumvents laws against making demonstrably false claims.

Words can have emotional resonance that strikes deeper than rational argument. When a tabloid journalist talks about “Frankenstein food” he or she is trying to stir up revulsion at the idea of “tampering with nature”.

Words like pure, natural and hygienic are what I call charm words. Words like artificial, synthetic and “germy” are what I call hex words. The former have a positive connotation, the latter a negative one.

A vitamin made by artificial means is no different to the same vitamin from a natural source. Is it meaningful to describe a soap dispenser as “germy” if it harbours a few hundred bacteria? If it harboured a few thousand the advertisers might have a point.

In a TV studio discussion programme they were talking about whether obese pregnant women should be given a drug hitherto given to diabetics (including pregnant diabetic women) in order to prevent the foetus from receiving too much insulin. One of the panel said that if she were pregnant she would want to make sure that anything she took was “pure”. Pure what? Pure poison?

When I hear words like “chemical” being used a hex word I take it with a pinch of sodium chloride (that’s a chemical commonly known as salt by the way). If you want to avoid chemicals, avoid the sugar and spice and go for the healthy protein of the rats and snails.

To recap, in Part 2 I explained that an Adult-Adult transaction at a social level can also be an Adult-Child transaction at a psychological level. As a persuasive tactic you can appeal to the Child in us through charm words, words that make us feel safe and comfortable or you can use hex words to frighten the Child (scary monsters – hide behind the sofa).

In debating think about the use of words and the resonances that certain words have. Don’t forget about humour. sometimes the charm words that work best tickle the Child.