Dusk settled coolly over the vineyards in Napa Valley, California,
one fall evening. Through the window, I gazed wistfully at a thin
stream of bittersweet chocolate sauce a waiter was ladling high over
a raspberry-colored cake at the table of a hand-holding couple, inside
the big stone restaurant operated by the Culinary Institute of America.
I knew it was bittersweet chocolate because the rich smell was drifting
through the French doors out onto the patio, where we were drinking
a fine Cakebread cabernet next to two giggling toddlers, just as happily
chewing red licorice twists from the local 7-11 store.
"See" the picture? Here's the pity. As adults, we tend to lose our
"picture-making" way of speaking. We forget to tell the
story that tells the story. We've gradually forgotten how to speak
English like it tastes good, even when we desperately want people
to remember what we are saying. Our conversations often begin with
sweeping generalizations. To further numb people, we talk about "work"
by using longer sentences, full of jargon that even colleagues won't
remember the way they'd remember everyday language wrapped around
Unlike most children under the age of 12 or so, we adults offer qualifiers
and chronology before we finally get to the delicious details that
are most involving, credible, and evocative. By then, even well-intentioned
listeners have taken several mental vacations. Think of the speeches,
advertisements, and conversations you most remember. Didn't the words
evokesome visual experience?
Let ideas roll around in your mouth like a good merlot. The specific
detail proves the general conclusion. It's also more credible and
memorable. The generality fades quickly. For several years, many ad
campaigns featured a group photo of "diverse" people, with
some variation of this headline: "We Are the People Who Care."
Banks, insurance companies, hospitals, and other large institutions
thus offered a generality that perpetuated their impersonal image
instead of promising some specific service, guarantee, or customer
story that proved how they were better than the competition.
Avoid gray generalities. Speak in Technicolor. Say less, better. Make
your most important truths well-told -- how you describe those who
matter most to you, or your job, product, program, cause, or idea.
Ironically, because you are so close to these topics, and care and
know so much about them, you are most likely to speak generally about
them than you do about a recent, negative incident you've experienced.
And, as Adlai Stevenson once said, "When you throw mud, you get
Whoever most vividly characterizes a situation or person usually determines
how others see it, discuss it, and decide on it. If your description
is more interesting than another's, even if that person has more money,
smarts, or power to push his message, others are more likely to recall
and repeat yours. Even those who disagree are likely to use your description
as they talk about their disagreement. Think how influential you are
when you thus speak English like it tastes good.
Become more memorable by saying it better next time in one or more
of these specific ways:
* Before you speak, reverse the sequence of what you instinctively
say, putting the example before the conclusion. Give the specific
story, detail, vivid contrast, or client's situation and how you solved
it or an unexpected twist of detail that pulls listeners in.
* Speak or write to evoke a smile, or at least a pause. Evocative
words deepen the listener's memory and feeling for what you say. Such
words can be heartwarming, quirky, poignant, humorous, inspiring,
startling, and more.
Heart-warming: Isn't "Doggie Care" a more emotional name
for a dog-washing and kennel service than, say, "Canine Care"?
Quirky: My second book dedication was "To Thelton, without whose
companionship this book would have been completed much earlier, but
life wouldn't have been nearly as sweet."
Poignant: The first words of an inexpensive but highly successful
radio public service announcement began with a man saying: "One
in three women who are murdered in this state (pause) are murdered
by their husbands." He ended the two-sentence PSA with, "If
you even think there's a slight possibility that someone you know's
life is in danger, do what I didn't do for my sister. Call this number
. . ."
Humorous: My friend Paul Geffner's chicken take-out restaurant in
San Francisco was called "Poultry in Motion." Montana cowboy
friend Hank D. modestly accepted an award for heroism by saying simply,
"The sun don't shine on the same dog all the time. Thanks for
* Use words from the real world. Which was easier to remember the
first time you heard these company names: "Intel" or "Apple"?
* Use a metaphor from the common cultural experience of the people
with whom you are talking. For example, columnist Albert Hunt wrote
recently, when describing the winners and losers in Congress's impeachment
debate: "A man who touches more bases than the New York Yankees,
Tom Daschle now has the solid support and confidence of the other
forty-four Senate Democrats."
Use these four techniques to get people to remember what you say,
even when they did not try to:
1. Imagine that the brain is like a wall with clothes hooks on it.
For the brain to catch and retain a detail, that detail must hang
on one of the memory-inducing hooks that is already in the brain.
The biggest hooks are the three universal and core life experiences:
1) family, 2) hometown or town where you have lived or are living,
and 3) past or current kind of work. For family, relate what you're
saying to a family situation: yours, theirs, someone else's, or even
a metaphorical family of services. Or relate your topic to the listener's
work situation or work with which she is familiar. People also remember
landmark places where they live, have lived, or have visited or well-known
places. For example, our business is in Sausalito, which evokes pleasant
by-the-bay memories for most who've visited here.
2. Motion makes memories. Whenever people are moving or see movement,
they remember more and are more emotional about what they remember.
Get customers in motion with you in a positive experience and they
will be more fervent, vivid, and believing fans, more likely to evoke
their bragging rights and likely to share their experience with others.
That's why we literally move to offer samples, getting people to reach
out, so they feel the experience more deeply.
An experience is most memorable when you and the other person are
both in motion, such as when you shake hands, walk together, or reach
to exchange something. Pick those ripe moments to say the most vivid,
specific detail you want the listener to remember and repeat to others.
Times are next most memorable for the listener who is in motion even
if you are not. Ask the person to reach or turn for something while
you're saying your tasty tidbit to remember. The next most memorable
movement is when you are in motion, even if your listener is not.
A final valuable way to evoke a memory is for you both to watch motion
from something or someone else.
Warning: Movement is a two-edged sword -- it is never neutral. The
listener who experiences something negative where motion is involved
will also remember the experience longer, and more intensely. As to
a vibrating pole, we hold on sooner, longer, and more strongly to
the negative incidents of life than to the positive, because the primitive
triune part of our brain -- wired to help us survive -- causes us
to respond to appearances of danger more strongly than to those of
3. Speak first of the other person's most current, pressing interest.
Just as those in the market for new cars are most likely to hear car
ads on the radio, all people listen sooner when you first speak about
what is most on their mind at that moment. Sadly, in fewer than 5%
of interactions when we want something from someone else do we first
speak about what matters most to them. We are more likely to speak
about our own interests first.
4. Speak in vivid, specific details that have a high emotional value
for the listener.
The good news? If you practice speaking first about the other person's
interests, then about what you share in common, and only then about
how that commonality relates to your interests, four amazingly powerful
changes occur in how that other person relates to you. The person
listens sooner, listens longer, remembers more, and assumes you have
a higher IQ than if you first speak about your own interests. -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ (companion) article
"Be a Co- Author of Your Life Story"
by Kare Anderson
On the very morning I am writing this column a radio commentator intoned,
"Presidential candidate George Bush will be active in making
pronouncements in the coming weeks. . . He wants to define himself
before his opponents do it for him." (Don't we all.)
Last month, when I turned on the radio in my rental car, a low, almost
neutral-sounding male voice came on: "One in three women in Louisiana
who are murdered . . (long pause) . . . are murdered by their husbands.
If you or someone you know's life is in danger, or you even suspect
it might be, here's the number to call right now for help. . . I wish
I had. It might have saved my sister's life." Then he gave the
I passed a billboard on Lombard Street in San Francisco yesterday
with this message, "Someone is going to win the lottery this
week. And it is not going to be you. When will you finally turn to
Become the best-selling author of your life. Be at least one of the
frequently cited among sources of the words most likely to be repeated
about you, your work, your loved ones, and your most passionate interests,
starting now. In these time-starved, relationship-diminished time,
use the impending turn of the century as your positive, mega-deadline
to turn the rest of your life into your kind of blockbuster story.
How? Get more specific about your stories. Like peeling away the layers
of an onion, consider pulling back the inevitable generalizations
you make about your most familiar topics -- because you know too much
-- until you get to the core of your most important life themes and
recognize their essence for yourself. Consider, as Steve Covey has
said, "First things first" to understand your essential
life story. Then, and only then, can you begin to consider how to
translate your story into the incidents and examples most meaningful
for each person with whom you talk. Only then can you begin considering
the comment or question most pertinent to the person with whom you
are communicating, and then the detail most worth telling.
Who defines your life for others? The most interesting storytellers
around you. Whoever most vividly characterizes what a person or situation
is about usually determines what others see in their mind's eye, how
they feel about it, and how they discuss it. You don't need to be
running for office, or even for a new job or romantic relationship,
to choose how you want to describe what matters most to you. How do
you describe your most important work, closest friends, critics, and
These words are the verbal "clothes" you wear throughout
your life. Who chooses your clothes most often - you or others? If
someone else's description is more vividly colorful than yours, people
will remember and repeat their words, not yours, about you and your
life. From a hated childhood nickname to an often-repeated embarrassing
incident from your past, you've learned the hard way that our brains
are hard-wired to notice and remember the embarrassing or tragic accident
more than the blandly characterized accomplishment, the funny blooper
more than the vaguely worded compliment.
After all, what do you most remember from yesterday, last week, last
year, ten years ago, your childhood? Those vivid incidents you experienced
first-hand and the stories you saw or heard second-hand are creating
the enduring thread of the story of your life, from how you see your
world to how you react to it. If that is true for you, it is true
for everyone around you. Change yourself and you change your world.
If you become a more vivid storyteller, you not only affect the picture
others have of you, you also help them literally see, in their mind's
eye, what is possible for them. What could be a more priceless, living
legacy for you?
Why leave it to Stephen Speilberg and Bill Gates to write the most
familiar blockbuster stories of our collective lives? You, or the
person near you, can also tap people's collective unconscious yearnings
and desires by telling the story that resonates with others everywhere
and even helps us see another picture of what is possible. With nary
a penny spent in marketing, your "call for action" story
might be re-told around the world and come back to you through a stranger's
action or comment on the street or an e-mail message from a colleague.
You are, after all, your living legacy, because you are living your
(to paraphrase a popular old song) "in every move you make and
every breath you take." It is only human to look for what is
most interesting around us.
We are all inevitable voyeurs, overhearing and seeing each other from
many directions. Even and especially in a world that can be abrupt,
anonymous, and over-advertised, we look for the words and scenes that
are "ahhhh" endearingly sweet-as-an-infant-smiling-up-from-us-across-the-back-of-a-parent,
or nearby tail-wagging puppy scenes, or startling, humorous, romantic,
poignant, inspiring, shocking comments. And we all seek the innately
human stories that bring us closer.
That's why we so often pass along the e-mail messages with such sentiments
in their stories, jokes, or sayings. That's why we so often tell each
other such incidents when we get together. Like a successful billboard
campaign in a community, the most vivid stories are the ones most
frequently "seen" because they are the most often repeated.
Want to write some of these stories? Start with what you know best:
What do you want people to tell each other about you? How do you want
to be best remembered when you leave the meeting, dinner party, family
gathering, your life? Be the author of the next chapters of your life.
It is never too late to at least co-create an engrossing living legacy,
beginning with an interesting next chapter and starting now. How?
Consider conversations. Forget the qualifiers, historical background,
jargon words, and "how-to" before the "why listen"
has been answered.
Recall the "one in three women" radio spot I described at
the beginning of this article? Radio listeners have no choice. More
than the multimillion-dollar auto advertisement that preceded it on
the air, this
modestly produced public service announcement leaves an indelible
impression on the minds of most listeners. Just as with the billboard
message about the lottery, this radio spot pulls you in with a sentence
that makes you want to learn more. What's the question or statement
you know that will pull people into learning more of your story?
Isn't it wonderfully democratizing to know that now, more than ever,
takes more than money to get a message noticed? What it takes is a
memorable message. Say it better next time and your message may be
the one most "broadcast" around the world. Get to the juicy
center of the topic upfront so others are pulled into wanting to hear
more. When someone says "Tell me more about that," you know
you have started your story by respecting their strongest interests
rather than our usual habits of packing in extraneous "preface"
details at the front of our conversation and numbing would-be listeners
into a "mental vacation."
Peel away the boring, up-front qualifiers and wandering background
words. Drop the secondary detail until you have hooked the listener
into wanting to know more. You are not acting like a robot but rather
choosing to have a few seconds of forethought in respect to the listener's
innate interests, world view, or current situation. Not only do you
tell the truth, you tell the best detail of that truth upfront to
engage the person you most want to have hear you. Look for the heartwarming
happening, contrasting facts or statistics, best/worst case scenario,
extraordinary incident, flattering and genuine compliment, glittering
opportunity or looming threat, cherished colleague's choice, or respected
opinion leader's actions to introduce your topic into conversation.
You can tattoo your word pictures into others - even beyond their
conscious willing - when you begin with the lead-in sentence to the
story that most interests them. Why? Because your words are unforgettable.
Remember that famous example where you can't help picturing what you
are admonished not to? "Whatever you do now, don't think of big
pink elephants." Peeling away the less immediately understandable
or interesting parts of your topic to begin with the most interesting
(to the listener) detail means others are more likely to want to learn
or share more later. As Roger Ailes says, "See it and say it.
If you can see a picture in your mind and describe it, others will
All of your stories don't have to be life-changing, but they can be
engaging. Use memory hooks that relate to your name, work, remarkable
quality or skill, or appearance, or perhaps a rhyme or word play.
Ivan Misner, author of Seven Second Marketing, offers many examples,
including three that I've paraphrased here:
- "Let me take the world off your
shoulders," offers Sharon Howard, massage therapist.
- Lance Mead of Lunar Travel Agency
stands out from other agents when he says "Ninety percent of
all accidents happen in the home. So travel."
Photographer, Robert Stewart writes, "My pictures say a thousand
words so you don't have to."
One of the many bright sides of our world now is that the most vivid
messages move with lightning speed to the most places, phones, and
screens around the world. Here are some of the ways we are seeing
People become more well known and quoted by coining a phrase that
sticks in our minds, characterizing a situation, sentiment, or trend:
Clint Eastwood ("make my day"), Don Peppers and Martha
Rogers ("mass customization"), Faith Popcorn ("cocooning"),
Harvey Mackay ("dig your well before you get thirsty"),
John Gray ("men are from Mars . . ."), Sam Horn ("Tongue
Fu"), John Naisbett ("high tech/high touch").
"Intel Inside." More and more business leaders (from Steve
Jobs to Jack Welch) speak so vividly that they become the "face"
of their companies, extending their personal "brand" value
as well as their company value. Be your brand. In a fast-changing
world, you are your most important brand. How do you burnish it
by how you characterize your work and that of others you admire?
Putting their lives on the line, Amnesty International volunteers
personally witness atrocities so the rest of the world might stop
them. Want to help a cause? Perhaps the most valuable contribution
you can make to your favorite program is creating the most specifically
reason for others to support it.
My friend Jacob Toschi spent last weekend revamping computers for
six blind people to jumpstart their Business for the Blind enterprise.
Perhaps the best gift you can present to someone you respect or
love is to tell
many others about one of that person's most wonderful actions. Bonus:
The "halo effect" of such third-party endorsements"
can't help but rub off on you
I feel this with all my heart, even if I am only intermittently good
myself. If you want a more interesting, options-loaded, meaningful
make the chapters more enticing, beginning with what you say-your
comments and your questions. When you raise the more interesting details
to the top of the conversation, the most intriguing parts of others
emerge. They will like the experience and be drawn to you. Whether
you seek a more lively experience with loved ones during your play
times, the immediate attention of colleagues or strangers, more support
for your project, or the birth of new friendships, begin with the
specific detail that pulls people to your most interesting "story."
Actress Glenn Close just said (on the TV playing in the background
here as I write this) "We all belong to the same tribe,"
and others have said that before her. What is the detail you can offer
that will enable others to recognize you as part of their "tribe"
and draw closer to you?
Tell me a vivid story of your life in 100 words or less and possibly
included in a future column or book. Want to learn more suggestions
about how to tell your story? Get my "Make Yourself Memorable"
tape of 100 more tips, with a check to "Kare Anderson" for
$11 (mailed to The CCG, 15 Sausalito Blvd., Sausalito, CA 94965-2464).
Sign up for my free online Say It Better newsletter at http://www.sayitbetter.com.
Consider reading what some great storytellers say about story-telling:
Dianna Daniels Booher's
"Communicate With Confidence:
How to Say It Right the First Time and Every Time";
"How to Say It : Choice Words, Phrases, Sentences, and Paragraphs
for Every Situation"
"Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal"
"Simply Speaking : How to Communicate
Your Ideas with Style, Substance, and Clarity" and " On
Speaking Well: How to Give a Speech with Style, Substance, and Clarity"
"Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?";
"You Are the Message: Getting What You Want by Being Who You
To hear a remarkable storyteller, listen to Garrison Keilor on your
national public radio station.
And finally, here are some great
resources available on the Internet where you can find the right words:
Webster's Hypertext Dictionary
Bartlett's Familiar Quotations,
Roget's Online Thesaurus
Online Rhyming Dictionary (enter a word, click a button to receive
The Quotations Page
Basic Terms to Know
Acronym and Abbreviation Server,
Acronym Finder (96,400 acronyms and abbreviations and their meanings),