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The power of a word

Don't ignore the potency of generating a delicious turn of phrase, says Electric Airwaves MD Andrew Caesar-Gordon.

Which is the more memorable word to use when attacking the current Government? Incompetent? Inept? Bungling? Or 'omnishambles'?

Last week, the team at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) named 'omnishambles' their 'word of the year'. How's that for a bit of creative PR, especially when the OED admits that such an accolade is no guarantee they will include it in their dictionary.

Generating a delicious turn-of-phrase or finding - or creating - a word that speaks to an accepted wisdom or sums up your position can be incredibly potent: 'in office but not in power'; 'the squeezed middle'; 'the wrong kind of leaves on the track'; 'never knowingly undersold'.

Electric Airwaves' media trainers help organisations to define or refine their corporate narrative. To find a media vocabulary that enables clients to communicate in an engaging and compelling way. And to rid spokespeople of corporate-speak. For jargon is the weed in the garden of language.

The trick is to find a word or phrase that does not need to be processed by the audience. Time spent processing what you have said is time the audience is not spending listening to your next sentence.

One of the best examples of this was the infamous first US presidential election TV debate between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy. While TV viewers believed Kennedy had won the debate, the only (and admittedly small) survey of radio listeners believed Nixon had won it. Why?

They felt Nixon had communicated in a simple, compelling language which required no processing ('every dollar he spends in Washington comes right out of your pockets and makes it harder for you to balance the family budget'); while Kennedy was often more conceptual (perhaps best expressed in his acceptance speech 'ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country').

Many spokespeople go into an interview armed with 'key messages' and broadcast these at the audience, hoping they will stick. But emotionally engaging your audience, using simple, appropriate language that speaks to them, is the best starting point for your rational messages then hitting home.

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Andrew Caesar-Gordon

So what to aim for? Of 'omnishambles' - first used in TV political satire The Thick Of It in 2009 and repeated several times by Ed Miliband since April 2012 -one of the OED judges said: 'It seemed to sum up so many of the events (over the past year) ... it's quirky, and it has broken free of its fictional political beginnings. If influence is any indication of staying power, it has already produced a number of related coinages. While many of them are probably humorous one-offs, their very existence shows that omnishambles itself has entered at least the familiar parlance, if not quite the common parlance.'

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