Charge up your speech with Power Words

Power Wordsv2

There are words that are hardly noticed. There are words that stand out. And there are words which stand out so much they almost seem to have some kind of special power.

Using power words appropriately can instantly improve your ability to capture your audiences’ attention. These words are used to do one or both of the following:

Invoking emotion: People connect to emotion, not words. Speeches that elicits “high arousal emotion” (anxiety, amusement) is more likely to be absorbed and discussed than content that doesn’t elicit emotion or elicits “low arousal” emotion. Power words are key to evoking these “high arousal” emotions. Examples include words like “Instantly”, “Mistakes” and“Hilarious”.

Triggering curiosity: Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it allows you to create a hook for your audience. Since we have a hard time resisting our curiosity, strategic use of power words makes it almost impossible for us to not to listen, wonder, and share. Power words that trigger curiosity include words such as “Reveals”, “Proves”, “Ridiculous”.

Let’s take an example from the Winston Churchill:

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

Did this trigger emotion? Curiosity?

This was a historic speech, under attack from Germany, Britain was fighting for its survival, and somehow, someway, Churchill had to find a way to inspire his countrymen to greatness.

He chose words. Or, to be more accurate, power words.

Let’s take a look at the passage again, this time with all the power words underlined:

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

Each underlined word makes the audience feel something. In this case, Churchill intermixes words that cause fear, such as “struggle,” “tyranny,” and “terror,” with words that cause hope, such as “strength,” “God,” and “victory.” The last, in particular, is repeated over and over, practically drilling the emotion into the minds of the audience.

It’s no accident. Smart speakers, as well as their speechwriters, sprinkle their speeches with carefully-chosen power words, drawing the audience from one emotion to another as skillfully as any novelist or screenwriter.

Ga Lok Chung