How to move people with your words

By using the right words and the power of description you can move people – from just listening to wanting to take action.

First, a quick set-up for you

As a news reporter I saw lots of terrible things – disasters, decapitated bodies, victims of crime and misfortune. I remained stoically and professionally detached.

Oprah says when she was a reporter she would get too involved and go back after she’d filed a story to give blankets etc. to victims.

These days, after becoming a parent, I’m such a “gusher” and a “weeper”.  Anything to do about suffering children makes me weep.

Sometimes when I’m coaching people, their powerful “presentations” (after they had some Bono-technique magic) make me weep so much I can’t talk to give them feedback. I think my tears are positive feedback enough. I borrow my talkforce boss’s great line: “I’m not crying. I’m sweating from the eyes!  They are Man tears!”

 When I get some of your photos I will use them to add visual variety and break up the text.

Until then here’s a shot to show even although now I’m a big softie weeper – back in my Defence Correspondent days I was stoic. I didn’t even cry when tear gassed for  NBC (Nuclear Biological Chemical) training. (that’s a joke – of course the tears flowed!)

How YOU can move people

Here’s an example of how we turn detached presentations to moving ones that get “inside” people, connect with them and move them.

Have you watched Bono’s NAACP Acceptance speech? (in an earlier post) I’ve seen it move viewers to tears.  Here’s the link again:

  1. “youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1GRj5UvVBA

Now, part of the power of Bono’s speech is the rousing delivery (we’ll discuss in a later post), but it’s also his use of sensory language. Sensory language evokes the senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch (or what it feels like).

In his description:

You can see the poor playing house in cardboard boxes.

You can hear the cries

You can see and feel the weight of the rubble

I helped a person from an organisation that helped people be better parents. Her first presentation was factual and full of important information – about assisting “dysfunctional” families. But, it was mainly that – information.

We (She and I) sprinkled some Bono magic by adding some sensory language.

We got her to describe a dysfunctional home. What did it look like, smell like, sound like?

I’m paraphrasing, but in essence she described the scene:

  • The stench of food scraps and dirty clothes
  • The noisy children running wild and the mother screaming in frustration – not knowing what to do
  • In a cot a baby lies silently. Her nappy is soiled, but she doesn’t cry -because she’s learned crying doesn’t help

That’s it – I’m gone. The floodgates open – the whole room of NFP (not for profit) partcipants (and I) turn into  blubbering messes all because her sensory description put us in that scene. The power of description rather than just saying “a dysfunctional house”.

I’m probably blubbering the loudest – you know the type of blubbering where you can’t breathe properly and when you try to speak it  comes out in this high-pitched girly voice. I’m not embarrassed about crying my manly tears. I’m so proud of her presentation. She beams with pride. The other participants applaud. We need a box of tissues.

In a later post I’ll describe another Bono technique – crafting a short, memorable  key message statement you repeat throughout your presentation. The presenter, just mentioned did this so well too!

Another powerful example was a person who used the powerful sense of smell  to describe what he called “the sickening stench of waste” – the stench of having to burn products that were no longer useful because of an organisational delay in action – the sickening smell and ugly black smoke of burning plastic.

Good lyrics that use sensory language:

Freedom – what does it look like or smell like?

“Freedom has the scent of  the top of  a new born baby’s head” (Who wrote that?)

This is a Bono lyric!

As a dad, I know that smell of a new born baby’s head and I love that smell!  Of course, you don’t have to be a parent to know and love that smell. For me the lyric evoked all these  powerful extra connotations – “freedom is precious and delicate and we must nurture it. Freedom will grow strong and will be able to look after itself.”

One of my favourite lyrics is by Billy Bragg who describes losing a girlfriend and seeing her with another guy. Off the top of my head, it’s something like – “I thought about them being together – till the bathwater went cold around me”

It works because you can feel the chill – the chill of cold water and the chill of the loss of love. And it’s so true, when you are so distracted thinking about something else – you find the bathwater has gone cold around you.

The audience thinks: This person knows what the experience is like.

Do you have any favourite U2 lyrics that love you? Or other artists’ lyrics?

Please share. Also please pass on this post to other people who could benefit from improving their communication. You don’t have to be a U2/Bono fan – but it helps.

Please share

So who is writing this and why is he helping people from good causes learn Bono’s techniques pro bono?

In a nutshell: A dedicated Bono/U2 fan who loves to help organisations with pro bono (for good/for free) communication coaching combines professional skills with passions

Communication Coaching + Pro bono helping good causes + Bono’s inspiration and example = Pro Bono Bono

You’ll learn how to improve the way you Present and Persuade by using communication techniques effectively used by Bono.

11 thoughts on “How to move people with your words – what you can learn from good lyrics

  1. From the poor side of the tracks as it were,
    our concerns are not necessarily
    those of the dominant culture.
    We keep hoping that if we stand up and
    sing out, one of these days people will hear
    and things will change for the better.
    John D. Berry, Native American Studies Librarian
    U.C. Berkeley

    From “Rock’n the Rez” by John Trudell

    Carrying on like he ain’t been gone,
    War-maker’s back, back in town.
    His notion of taking care of us
    not the same as, not even close…
    Not even close to our notion of taking care of us.
    Nowhere to ride, nowhere to run,
    got no job and prices going up.
    War-maker’ back in town.
    Just another day like yesterday.

    Rockin’ my heart, rockin’ the Rez,
    no chance we’re gonna ever give up.
    Together we’ll dance
    our personal dance.
    Sweet hearts surrendering
    only to each other.
    These days holding the night.
    Rockin’ our hearts, rockin’ the Rez.

  2. I always liked the lyric in ‘One’ –

    Did I ask too much?
    More than a lot?
    You gave me nothing
    Now it’s all I got

    A bit like when Dylan sang –
    When you got nothin’ you got nothin’ to lose…

    Another U2 pearl from the same album via ‘The Fly’ –

    Every artist is a cannibal
    Every poet is a thief
    All kill their inspiration
    Then sing about their grief

  3. You can run from love,
    And if is really love it will find You,
    Catch you by the heals

    But, you can’t be numb for love,
    The only pain is to feel nothing at all..

    True love never can be rent,
    Only true love can keep beauty innocent

    Bono (Man and a Woman)

    Love is clock works and cold steel
    Fingers too numb to feel

    Bono (Love is Blindness)

    Is this the bitter sweet duality of romantic love or, the nature of love in general?

  4. I’ve added this message from Chantale who taught me lots about Bono’s lyrics. She’s a bigger fan that I am! Here’s what she said:

    Loving this opportunity to post my favourite and meaningful bono lyrics…you know I know them all. Here is another: ‘where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die’

  5. Anthony Biancotti
    Getting some good comments on your favourite lyrics that use the power of language that evokes the senses and makes you see, feel, hear, or even smell.

Like this – from Bullet in a Blue Sky


”In the howling wind comes a stinging rain 
See it driving nails”

    You hear the howl. You feel the sting. You see (and maybe feel) the nails. 

  6. Pingback: When and why highly paid speakers and experts should share their skills for free « Chris Adams Project (CAP)

  7. Sunday Morning Coming Down……..One word…..LONELY……when one is alone on a Sunday…a day when I crave family, I cannot help see all the images in Kristoffersons’ great lyrics…little girls on swings… people in church…the smell of a baked dinner for Sunday lunch…these are the things that make me think of this great song…..but one of my all time favourite lyrics is “and the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad so I had one more for desert” this was my first memory of the song as a little boy no more than 10 years old, listening to the Ray Stevens’ version on 2UW am radio…it was just called radio back then…and I had not tasted beer…But now in my 50s I have a much better Idea of what he was talking about.This is the sort of lyric that can make a song a hit…so that you listen to it in the first place…other lines like “I fumbled through my closet for my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt” speak for themselves….LONELY…….LONELY……..LONELY.
    Well done Kris and thank you.
    Lindsay Tebbutt

    • thanks Lindsay, I know we would often chat about our favourite songs and the power of good lyrics. Yeah Kris had a way with words and what I call the “little exquisite details of truth”. He must have been a great observer. I still dig his songs very much. Sunday Morning coming down is one of my favourite songs of his too! Thanks for your input!

  8. Pingback: Bono’s 2013 TED talk – Progress, Peril, Poetry, Pay-off, Photo opportunities and Wordplay | Pro Bono Bono

  9. Pingback: Peter Gabriel plays with Bono(bo) – TED 2013 | Pro Bono Bono

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