Tag Archives: Shakespeare

,

Learning mad persuasion skillz from Jesus and Gaga (a book review)

To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. So said WWE icon Rick Flair (who could probably teach a little bit about rhetoric). That’s kind of the logic underpinning Joseph Romm’s Language Intelligence: Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady GagaRomm runs the website Rhetoric.com and applies his rhetorical skills on the Climate Progress blog.

While Romm doesn’t pay much attention to Cicero, he does offer a guide to eloquence based on looking at some of the most persuasive story tellers from the past and present. He reverse engineers the rules of persuasion from the world’s great orators – Jesus and Shakespeare, with a pretty cutting assessment of the communication techniques of modern politicians, and quite a sympathetic reading of Lady Gaga.

“If the Bible is the word of God, then rhetoric is God’s way of speaking. The Elizabethans certainly viewed rhetoric that way. One best-selling sixteenth-century handbook asserted that rhetoric makes the orator “the emperour of men’s minds & affections, and next to the omnipotent God in the power of persuasion.”

He suggests rhetoric isn’t much more than helping people to speak naturally in a way that understands what makes people tick.

“…from the very beginning, rhetoric teachers aimed to help orators speak more naturally, in a manner that as closely as possible matched the way people actually speak. Here is Aristotle discussing the importance of matching natural speaking: Your language will be appropriate if it expresses emotion and character…. To express emotion, you’ll employ the language of anger in speaking of outrage; the language of disgust and discreet reluctance to utter a word when speaking of impiety or foulness; the language of exultation for a tale of glory…. This aptness of language is one thing that makes people believe in the truth of your story.

Ultimately it’s a book about how to tell a story that persuades – particularly an extended story. And this is where I reckon it’s incredibly powerful for preachers. If you’re not thinking about how your sermons relate to each other, and to your church’s vision, and to the way you do things – and you’re not tying those together with some sort of extended, coherent metaphor or narrative, you’re being less than effective as a persuasive communicator. And that, ultimately, is what we’re on about as Christians.

“Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.” – 2 Cor 5:11

Romm gives some tips drawn from his pool of experts, summed up in this list:

1. Use short, simple words.

2. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition is the essential element of all persuasion.

3. Master irony and foreshadowing. They are central elements of popular culture, modern politics, and mass media for a reason—they help us make sense of the stories of our lives and other people’s lives.

4. Use metaphors to paint a picture, to connect what your listeners already know to what you want them to know. Metaphors may be the most important figure as well as the most underused and misused.

5. Create an extended metaphor when you have a big task at hand, like framing a picture-perfect speech or launching a major campaign.

6. If you want to avoid being seduced, learn the figures of seduction. If you want to debunk a myth, do not repeat that myth.

I think most preachers have been taught 1 and 2, but it’s 4 and 5 that are key. I’d say you can even get away with not following 1 if your metaphor is powerful enough and infuses everything you say with a bit of life and verve.

Here. So you don’t have to buy the book (you should anyway). Is a bit of an expansion on some of these points.

Repetition and clarity

“Eloquence requires the repetition of words and phrases. Persuasion requires the repetition of slogans, sentences, and ideas.”

For Romm the key to repetition is something like sloganeering. You figure out the simplest and most punchy way to make a point. And you make it. Again. And again. And again. But you’ve got to aim not to bore your audience with the repetition – which means you’ve got to work hard at getting your weight behind the punch. He suggests the noble (and vastly underrated) chiasmus is a nice way to hammer home a blow. I quite like the idea of structuring speeches and sermons as something like a chiasmus.

“Perhaps the most elegant—and certainly one of the most popular—figures of repetition is chiasmus: words repeated in inverse order. Chiasmus is a great source of aphorisms. Mae West famously said, “It’s not the men in my life, it’s the life in my men.” Ray Bradbury advised writers, “You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance. Chiasmus makes for a memorable tweet, since it is pithy and profound.”

Clarity isn’t just about short words. It’s about removing impediments to your message. It’s ground clearing so that your storytelling can stand out – so that your metaphor is given the context it needs in order to shine. But it isn’t even just about vocab. It’s about clarity of emotion and tone as well. Making sure the mood and thus, in a speech, the medium, is apt to the message.

“Clarity is rightly seen as one of the most important virtues of a speech. If our goal is to persuade people honestly, then we should be as clear as possible about what we are trying to say. Clarity is most important when we are trying to convince people with the facts, with logic. As we’ve seen, however, truly persuasive speech requires a simultaneous appeal to mind and heart, logic and emotion, especially if you are trying to penetrate and change someone’s worldview.”

Stories as metaphors

“Memorable storytelling, whether in life or politics, is built around the same figures of speech used by the master storytellers, the ancient bards—metaphor, foreshadowing, irony, and especially extended metaphor, which is what some, like the linguist George Lakoff, call a frame.”

Romm argues that metaphors speak to us because they speak to our brains. They give us something that appeals to how we’re wired – words that evoke pictures. Speeches that are just words might fire up one part of the brain, but when you get people to visualise something, and give them a memory hook – it’s like injecting steroids into their head. Strengthening your message.

“Metaphors are not just a pleasing figure of speech we use by chance. They reflect the very structure of our thinking and of our brain itself. Edward O. Wilson argued in his book Biophilia, “The brain depends upon elegance to compensate for its own small size and short lifetime.” As we evolved, the brain “was forced to rely on tricks to enlarge memory and speed computation.” Hence, the human mind “specializes on analogy and metaphor, on a sweeping together of chaotic sensory experience into workable categories labeled by words and stacked into hierarchies for quick recovery. Metaphors enhance our memories in at least two ways. First, they create another place in the brain for a word or phrase to reside. People remember words better when they have multiple ways to remember them, such as combining repetition and a rhyme (“Double your pleasure, double your fun with Doublemint Doublemint Doublemint gum!”). In particular, metaphors create a visual aid to memory. Metaphor is “used for the sake of creating a vivid mental picture,” wrote the author of one of the rhetoric textbooks used to teach Elizabethan children.”

“Metaphors aid in memory a second way: They require the hearer or reader to think more, to light up more brain circuits, to figure out the connections and what they mean. As one study of “Figures of Rhetoric in Advertising Language” put it (in muddy jargon that no ad writer would use), “Effortfully processed information is more readily retrieved from memory than less effortfully processed information.”

It’s not just that metaphors are more memorable. Metaphors are also more compelling. Especially if they work at the level of providing a framework for people to think. Extended metaphors shape worldviews. They let us carry our stories across time and space. They help us link our stories together (a bit like Coca Cola’s “Liquid and Linked” approach to telling stories on social media)

“Extended metaphor is, for me, the most important rhetorical device. This figure is at the heart of some of Lincoln’s greatest speeches. It pumps the life blood into Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Political candidates with a strong extended metaphor have a long political life while those without one don’t have much of a pulse. Like the best figures, extended metaphors make ideas and phrases more memorable, expanding the vivid visual imagery painted by a single metaphor to create an entire mental mural for the audience. And like the best tropes, which “turn” the meaning of words, extended metaphors force you to think—and in a deeper way than most figures.”

This again, works because we think not just in metaphors, but in extended metaphors. Here’s how it works in politics. There’s not a huge jump to figuring out how we can make this work in preaching.

“Extended metaphors are essential to politics for several reasons. First, as we’ve seen, they are a key to great speechmaking. Second, we humans think with extended metaphors. So the best politicians naturally present themselves to fit our metaphors, linking those metaphors to their personal story, feeding the modern media’s growing interest in personalities and dramatic stories. Third, the best way to attack your opponent’s positive extended metaphor is to hit back with a negative extended metaphor. Put another way, rhetoric is the art of creating a persuasive story, the art of making—and unmaking—an emotional connection with voters.”

For preaching the issue isn’t so much conforming to the audience’s metaphor – it’s conforming the audience to a new worldview by the Gospel. Which comes packed with its own metaphors. So, for example, at Creek Road we link the Gospel, with our vision, with the way we do things using the metaphor of heart transformation. Being able to alter worldviews is vital for preaching – it’s a vital work of the Holy Spirit, who works through our preaching. But it’s an incredible challenge for us now – because we are both bombarded by tens of thousands of competing metaphors and advertising images every day (well, on the days you walk the aisles of a supermarket), and we are getting better and better at filtering out messages that we aren’t interested in.

“If you cannot change the public’s worldview, microcosm, paradigm, extended metaphor, or frame, then you cannot change how they perceive the facts. This is especially problematic in our time, a time when people can easily choose to watch only those media outlets that share their political views and thus pre-filter facts for them.”

One of the really nice things about Romm’s book, and one of the reasons it’s so readily applicable in a Christian context is that he values, rather than dismissing, the Christian tradition and its contribution to rhetoric. This isn’t a Christian book, but Romm uses Jesus as an example to back up many of these points, and acknowledges that Christianity brings its own inherent extended metaphor in the pages of Scripture.

“The systematic application of rhetoric is one of the few ways to create a worldview—what more profound paradigm is there in America than the Judeo-Christian ethic as created and sustained in the supreme rhetoric text, the Bible? In the beginning was the Word.”

To tweet, or not to tweet*

It had to happen sooner or later. Such Tweet Sorrow is a dramatic rendition of Romeo and Juliette conducted through the construct of Twitter. The actors don’t follow the dialogue so much as commentate on the action, in true Twitter style. It’ll run for five weeks.

“The scriptwriters have played out a story grid with key events in the play being scheduled over the next month. But the actors playing the characters on Twitter will improvise the dialogue throughout the day, including interacting with their Twitter followers.

Every morning the actors receive a three-page mission document which informs them of the key events that need to take place during the day.

The project was jointly funded by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Channel 4’s 4IP fund and Screen West Midlands.

On the Such Tweet Sorrow website, it’s possible to gain an overview of all of the different Twitter accounts, including the ability to view the entire play in a time-line.

Set as it is in the real world, the play will react to news events taking place during the next month. This obviously means the general election, one of the most tweeted subjects on Twitter, but also the London marathon, where one of the characters will be taking part.”

To follow, or not to follow*…

*I am aware that this is actually from Hamlet. If you feel the need to correct or castigate me for misappropriating a line from one of Shakespeare’s plays to head a post about another please do so constructively – with a better reference.

The Bard’s Lebowski

Have you spent any time wondering what elements of our culture will be around in 300 years time? Who is our Shakespeare? Who is our Bach?

A case could be made for the Coen brothers. Which makes this little experiment – recreating the Big Lebowski in Shakespearean language – a worthy excercise. It stacks up pretty well.

A sample…

WALTER
In sooth, then, faithful friend, this was a rug of value? Thou wouldst call it not a rug among ordinary rugs, but a rug of purpose? A star in a firmament, in step with the fashion alike to the Whitsun morris-dance? A worthy rug, a rug of consequence, sir?

THE KNAVE
It was of consequence, I should think; verily, it tied the room together, gather’d its qualities as the sweet lovers’ spring grass doth the morning dew or the rough scythe the first of autumn harvests. It sat between the four sides of the room, making substance of a square, respecting each wall in equal harmony, in geometer’s cap; a great reckoning in a little room. Verily, it transform’d the room from the space between four walls presented, to the harbour of a man’s monarchy.

WALTER
Indeed, a rug of value; an estimable rug, an honour’d rug; O unhappy rug, that should live to cover such days!

Unmitigated soppiness

This post should potentially come with some sort of gag warning. But I’m sure all my female readers will appreciate it – and single guys can probably learn something from it…

We watched the Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo + Juliette this afternoon.

Now that I’m married I enjoy romantic tragedies even less than before.

Speaking of which, we had our two year anniversary this week (on the 22nd). And my wife is still wonderful. I don’t normally go for soppiness online – it falls into the category of sharing information people don’t really want to read (oversharing).

I do love my wife very much though, and I’m happy for this fact to be published.

literally… not figuratively

This is literally the best blog topic suggestion I’ve ever received…

“I would like you to write about the misuse of the word ‘literal,’ and about how ironic it is that the word literal has lost its literal meaning. It really annoys me when I hear comments on A Current Affair stating that “These are literally the tenants from hell.”” – Joel.

Well Joel I would quite literally love to write about that… and I will… now.

Literally literally means to:

  1. In a literal manner; word for word: translated the Greek passage literally.
  2. In a literal or strict sense: Don’t take my remarks literally.

Incorrect usage of the word really bothers me too. I would suggest that a more appropriate word, in most cases where literally is used out of context is in fact the word literarily.

  1. Of, relating to, or dealing with literature: literary criticism.
  2. Of or relating to writers or the profession of literature: literary circles.
  3. Versed in or fond of literature or learning.
    1. Appropriate to literature rather than everyday speech or writing.
    2. Bookish; pedantic.

If tabloid journalists began using literarily instead of literally it would literally solve half the problem over night.

For example the quote “These are literarily the tenants from hell” – could be acceptable if the show went on to prove that the tenants were of a hellacious nature. For it to be literally true, one or more of the following points must be demonstrably true:
1. The tenant is in fact Satan.
2. The house is in fact hell.
3. The tenant is actually dead, and the report has been beamed back from hell.
4. The house is in Ipswich (replace this suburb with the westernmost suburb in your city – I guess for Townsville readers it’s Charters Towers or somewhere like that).
5. The tenant is demonstrably a demon.
6. The tenant lives in a gambling house
7. The tenant is a scrap of material in a tailor’s box

I agree Joel, Current Affairs programs are literally the worst thing on television. They are literarily a product of hell.

Now on to other pressing issues. I had a thought the other day. Well actually, I had several. This one was to do with the “Drink Drive and you’re a bloody idiot” campaign. It occured to me that there are actually a lot of people in our society who a) are bloody idiots already, b) would like nothing more than to grow up to be a bloody idiot, or c) are not quite bloody idiots but would like to take that next step. It occurs to me that the campaign is flawed on that basis. It occurs to me now that that isn’t as interesting as it seemed in my head when I read it online. Stay tuned for my thoughts on Shakespeare and how lucky he was that his performers didn’t have speech impediments. Try saying Shakespeare with a lisp and it comes out as thakethpeare (and you spit on all the people in the same room as you). But that’s for another post. I may also make some comment about cb’s favourite new word, or new favourite new word. The word is both new, and her new favourite. Allived. To me it sounds a little bit Strongbadian – It’s a great way to transform an adjective to a verb. It’s just a shame alive actually only has one l though really.