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The Power of Words…

“Sticks and Stones Will Break my Bones, but Words will Never Hurt Me’ is a phrase which many of us grew up with as children, but is it true?  I wonder if anyone reading this has never been hurt by words?  I believe that words have the ability to convey beauty and love, but also horror and hate.  I’d advise you say what you mean and mean what you say…

Words have recorded the history of civilisation for thousands of years.  As soon as we learned to scratch simple shapes and images into stone and clay, mankind has told the story of evolution, empire and exploration.  Libraries such as Ashurbanipal, texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the writings of Sumer record some of our earliest and most beautiful words.  Over thousands of years we have widened our abilities, taken writing from the elite and put it into almost every hand on earth.  Great authors such as HomerShakespeare and Tolstoy have used words to great effect and their words stand the test of time.  Languages may have evolved, but the words remain powerful.

The business world has taken the use of words to a high crescendo.  Advertisers, marketeers and managers seem to think that using complicated phrases, Acronyms and Buzzwords makes them look good.

Almost every project now needs to have huge Impact, Create Disruption, Incentivise Corporate Strategy, think Outside the Box, be Deliverable, Reach Out, allow you to Drill Down and attain a Bandwidth to reach Low Hanging Fruit.  You have to be schooled by a Guru, Thought Leader or Team Lead.

LinkedIn has a wonderful printout of buzzwords to use in your next boring meeting.

And as for Job Titles, I’ll let the Plain English Campaign describe those.

I was at a meeting for work once and a senior manager gave a presentation about performance in the business.  In less than 20 minutes, he managed to sneak in– ‘Moving Forward’ over 30 times and one slide had 147 words on it (I was bored enough to count them).  I hope this describes my level of attention!

The outdoors has not escaped with words such as Epic, Adventure and Climbing being used casually.

Here’s a couple of my favourites –

‘Adventure Biking’ – a day out on the bike

‘Wild Swimming’ – Outdoor swimming not using a pool or baths

Ethical, Wellbeing, Sustainable, Environmental etc are all also filling the headlines.  I just hope people have the the correct research and experience to back up their use.

I grew up in a world where we wrote letters by hand (or typewriter) and posted them.  Expedition work brought rationing as the amount of paper you had could be finite.  The Aerogram or ‘Bluey’ was a popular air mail and we had to fit everything we wanted to say upon a single page.  It was common for writing to get smaller, fill margins and go around the edges.  You had to think about your words carefully before you wrote them.  The modern world of social media and texting has changed this forever as endless messages can now be sent.  However I feel that we write more, but communicate less.  Thinking has fallen away in place of speed and our disposable society has crept into our language.

As a speaker, I need words.  Without them I cannot tell stories, answer questions or make conversation.  My time before an audience is often limited, so the words I use have to be fit for purpose, simple to understand and memorable.  The most powerful word there is simple.  Don’t confuse people with acronyms, specialist terms or gobbledygook.

Many people have heard of the Gettysburg Address.  This statement in itself is incorrect.  The Gettysburg Address was actually given by Edward Everett and took over two hours (over 13,000 words) to read.  This was not uncommon of its age, but I wonder now how many people would sit listening intently to someone for two hours?  Lincolns speech was only 271 words.  Guess which one has gone down in history?

Words have the power to lift a nation of millions and to break a single heart, they have sent countless souls into war and brokered lasting peace, they have caused outrage to many and comforted a crying child.

Use them well…

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