Few skills are more important for success at work and life than the ability to be persuasive and memorable. And yet the tricks for effective speaking and writing, which have been known for twenty-five centuries and verified by modern social science research, are hardly taught today.
As I explain in my book Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga, those tricks are the figures of speech, originally developed by the ancient bards like Homer to help them remember their epic poems and to make sure audiences would remember them.
Systematic use of the figures is the best way to be both pithy and profound. In this world of information overload, you have to capture people’s attention. In this media menagerie, you have to stand out like a peacock. Mastering the figures will help you grab people with the most eye-popping headlines, the catchiest catch-phrases, and the sweetest tweets.
Modern corporations have spent billions trying to hone in on which words will persuade people to remember and purchase their products. Their expensive studies have shown that the use of the figures “leads to more liking for the ad, a more positive brand attitude, and better recall of ad headlines.”
Advertising research finds that for certain figures, such as puns or metaphors, the act of decoding the figure, of figuring it out, “is necessary to produce its positive incremental effects on attitudes and memory.” The subtext is as important as the text.
Studies reveal that “virtually all of our abstract conceptualization and reasoning is structured by metaphor.” A single, well-crafted metaphor, like a well-crafted building, can endure for ages, as when Churchill said in 1946, “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”
Lady Gaga, the first musician in history to reach one billion views on YouTube. Half of those views were from two songs, “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance,” which, not coincidentally, are both extended metaphors.