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Poetry Power in Executive Presence

Posted on November 20, 2012 by Leslie Dickson

Is there anyone who distills ideas into concentrated communication better than poets? And by poets, I mean everyone from Robert Frost to Dr. Seuss, pop singers to rap artists. That’s why a recent article in The Atlantic magazine caught my attention. Dorothea Lasky, an educator and poet, penned the article What Poetry Teaches Us About Persuasion.

Lasky’s focus is making students better writers, but I think her argument applies to all communicators. “It would be hard to say that any outstanding essay does not involve meticulous word choice or the ability to persuade a reader through sheer aesthetic prowess. Poetry teaches students how to do this.”

Think about it.

Poetry helps us hear things differently, make a rational and an emotional connection, remember ideas better and longer. Lasky likes to use lyrics from pop singer Jay-Z’s songs to make her poetry point with students. You may not know his music, but I bet you remember these:

-“Would you eat them in a box, would you eat them with a fox…”

-And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land…

-Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by…

-Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…

Another of Lasky’s points hits home, too: “[B]ecause I am a poet, I am always searching for ways to change language.” That’s a powerful way to make sure your words aren’t just verbal wallpaper – always there, never noticed.

You know who may have been the best language inventor in history? William Shakespeare, the poet playwright. James Shapiro, a Shakespeare scholar, launched a steady stream of the bard’s best on the Radiolab. As Shapiro says, Shakespeare shoved ideas together “to achieve a kind of atomic power.” He captured ideas so memorably, 400 years later they’re still part of our everyday language: I’m in a pickle, dead as a doornail, forever and a day, in my mind’s eye, kill with kindness. Not bad.

So is it time to start rhyming your presentation?

No. But it is worth your while to spend a little time thinking about new ways to say what’s been said before. Here are a few ideas to borrow from the poet’s craft.

-Choose words worth a thousand pictures. The word “history” and “heritage” seem synonymous at first glance. But while “history” connotes the factual past, “heritage” suggests more. History can be good or bad, but a heritage connotes richness, tradition, something worth keeping.

-Is there a metaphor? A new way of thinking can help people grab on. A writer I know calls it “reincarnation”. Maybe a problem is a landmine or a buzzing mosquito. A goal might be a holy grail or Mt. Everest. A competitive situation might be a cage match…or a chess match.

-Think about inventing words. Channel your inner Shakespeare. Maybe a college campus is a brainspace, a computer lab is a techscape.

-Borrow someone’s else’s words. There are poetic persuaders everywhere with great words to express ideas – even different shades of the same one. Michael Jordan said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” Winston Churchill offers “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Which works for you?

Next time you’re preparing for a presentation, invite your inner poet to the planning session. Let’s give poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge the last word on the topic: “[P]rose = words in their best order; poetry = the best words in the best order.

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Image Provided By Dave Halley

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