Van Jones has written, “To get our ideas out there, progressives need to communicate more powerfully. We aren’t failing to come up with good solutions. We’re failing in explaining them to the American people.”
Two millennia ago, the Greeks and Romans discovered and developed the art of being memorable and persuasive, known as rhetoric. It was then raised to high art in English by Elizabethans like Shakespeare and the King James Bible translators.
Rhetoric — the systematic use of the figures of speech – is the scaffolding of Lincoln’s and Churchill’s most brilliant oratorical constructions, but it is hardly taught any more today.
Yet research by modern social scientists and the advertising industry demonstrates that the figures are essential to being memorable, a key reason why most successful ad campaigns and candidates use them.
In my new book “Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga,” I discuss the key rhetorical strategies of history’s greatest communicators:
- Use short, simple words.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition is the essential element of all persuasion.
- Master irony and foreshadowing. They are central elements of popular culture, modern politics, and mass media for a reason—they help us make sense of the stories of our lives and other people’s lives.
- Use metaphors to paint a picture, to connect what your listeners already know to what you want them to know. Metaphors may be the most important figure as well as the most underused and misused.
- Create an extended metaphor when you have a big task at hand, like framing a picture-perfect speech or launching a major campaign.
- If you want to avoid being seduced, learn the figures of seduction. If you want to debunk a myth, do not repeat that myth.
These tools can be applied to improve the effectiveness of your writing, speaking, blogging — even your Tweeting.
Van Jones says “Language Intelligence is the progressives’ field guide in the war of ideas. If you liked Lakoff’s Don’t Think of An Elephant, you’ll love Language Intelligence.” We can win this fight if we use all of the weapons at our disposal.