Language Intelligence: Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga
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"Joe Romm is one of the best communicators we have. This book is the essential hand-book for anyone who wants to be more effective or more persuasive."
- Bill McKibben, Founder, 350.org
About the Author
- Item Weight : 8.6 ounces
- Paperback : 230 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-1477452226
- ISBN-10 : 1477452222
- Product Dimensions : 5.25 x 0.52 x 8 inches
- Publisher : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 11, 2012)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #824,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Rhetoric in this case does not mean the most commonly thought of definition where you envision a political animal gushing forth with a diatribe of nonsense (picturing Rush Limbaugh now?) but instead, the more formal definition which is "the art or science of effective use of language."
Romm takes us on a history tour and shows us why the greatest communicators have been the ones that worked hardest at improving their rhetoric. I was surprised to learn that Winston Churchill in his early twenties already understood the power of effective rhetoric. (At the same age I was more concerned with finding the best price on beer and wings! Rhetoric was off my radar.) While only 22 years old, Churchill wrote a manifesto in which he said,
"The influence exercised over the human mind by apt analogies is and has always been immense. Whether they translate and established truth into simple language or whether they adventurously aspire to reveal the unknown, they are among the most formidable weapons of the rhetorician. The effect upon the most cultivated audiences is electrical...One such will make a speech or mar a measure."
The reader also learns that Lincoln studied Shakespearean orations in order to improve his speechmaking skills and would often argue for hours about the use of a single word in his or an opponent's speech.
I was quite pleased to read that Romm places Bob Dylan and Lady Gaga into the category of rhetorical genius. Dylan has been my favorite song writer since I started really listening to his lyrics as a high school student and I am a huge fan of Lady Gaga - not only because her songs are "sticky" but her message is inspiring. P-P-P-P-Poker Face. Rhetoric is a big reason why these two messengers have such a huge following.
Romm gives up his secrets in this book just like the great poker player Doyle Brunson did with his landmark Super System that changed the game of Texas Hold `em. (The book was so good that Doyle had to completely change his game because he was getting beat by 18 year old Internet players who went to school on Brunson's book.) So why is Romm divulging his secrets?
Romm is a strong advocate for immediate action to halt the oncoming freight train that is human-caused climate change. His blog, Climate Progress, is arguably the best climate-related blog on the web and there you can see how Romm uses powerful rhetoric to send his messages. Unfortunately, most scientists are hard-wired to make many of the mistakes Romm tries to steer the reader away from. On the other hand, the public relations evil geniuses that represent the fossil fuel industry have used the rhetoric playbook for years to beat our brains out on the football field that is public understanding of climate change. Romm is handing his playbook to you - climate communicators - in order to level that playing field.
Romm's book is packed with powerful advice. A few are highlighted below:
1. The title is probably more important than the content. Hey bloggers, your title is like the cover letter while your blog is the resume. A great cover letter means your resume will get a read. Bad letter = no read. Spice up those titles.
2. Keep it simple! Avoid jargon and try to use one syllable words as often as possible. I recall a phone interview I did with a reporter at The Los Angeles Times. Afterward, the reporter said, "Thank you for talking to me so even a 12 year old could understand." Big words impress few. Small words impress many.
3. Tell a story! (This is a key point made by legendary actor Alan Alda who now spends his time teaching science students how to effectively communicate.)
4. Use metaphors, similes, analogies, and irony to make your points. The brain is always trying to make connections and these rhetorical strategies help to cement those connections. Climate communicators can see many great examples at Climatebites.org.
5. Repetition, repetition, repetition. One of the quotes that really stuck with me is one from Republican strategist and no friend of climate change, Frank Luntz:
"There's a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you're absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your audience has heard it for the first time."
Reading this book is like taking steroids. If you are not a good communicator right now, after reading this book, you will be. If you are a good communicator right now, you will become a great one! Give yourself a legal injection of powerful rhetoric - read this book.
Rhetoric has been used to persuade people and manipulate public opinion for centuries, but in recent decades, learning how to do that, and how to defend yourself against that kind of manipulation has all but vanished from our schooling system.
This is a self-defense book for the information age, and nobody should be without it.
Being an avid reader of ClimateProgress.org's well written emails and blog, when I learned that Joseph Romm (who heads it) had written a new book on how to influence and persuade, I knew I had to read it. A thorough read with highlighter in hand (and used often) has presented me with the Keys to the Kingdom. Now my words simply Click and Stick.
So, what are the Keys?
Surprising to me, "Rhetoric" - not the long flowing drivel that I see in much of the dry writing of the 19th century, but rather Short Words assembled to be Pithy and Profound. Short Words are always my first choice, but also The Right Word. Remember Mark Twain's distinction "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
"Repetition," used artfully to bring home a point. For example, Winston Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." This 1940 speech certainly contributed to the British people's ability to deny Hitler Great Britain, thus contributing to his defeat. There are many examples, which - once recognized - are obviously true. Note: Repetition can be used for good or bad, but recognizing its use by others offers you protection from those applying it to warp your outlook (as in, perhaps, political speeches). When you recognize it, listen to the intent, not the content, and reject what you know is wrong or exaggerated.
"Metaphors" (often figures of speech) and "Analogies" used to mentally tie a new concept to an accepted idea. For example, Lincoln's 1858 speech about the affects on a country torn between Slave and Free states "A House divided against itself cannot stand." The King James Bible is a masterpiece of metaphors - we use its phrases daily, often without recognizing the source. The lyrics of Bob Dylan (like his music or not) are alive with metaphors. For example, his anti-war song "Blowin' in the Wind," with its many somber questions leading to the repeated refrain "The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind.") Metaphors allow you to concentrate a lot of information into a small (often profound) phrase. All you must do is find the best one, and this book helps.
Of course this is just a sample; 200+ pages can't be crunched into half a page.
If you want to listen, write or just understand your world better, "Language Intelligence - Lessons On Persuasion" is a gold mine you must visit. You'll be surprised at what you already know but could use more effectively, and delighted with the gems of new "common-sense" scattered throughout. This is a "Must-Read" if you want to make the best use of your time. The country would be well served to make this book part of everyone's education.
Top reviews from other countries
Joseph Romm's book is a good, easy to read introduction to standard rhetorical advice, such as the value of short words, the impact which repetition makes and the power of metaphors.
If this is all new to you, it's a great book as it covers the basics clearly, making it easy for you to start thinking about how to adapt the lessons to your own use.
If you are already familiar with this sort of advice, then it's a light breezy read - but one without much in the way of insight to add to what has already been said, many times by many others. A handy reminder for such a reader, perhaps, but with little in the way of new lessons or insightful examples.