Guest Post: The Importance of Words

As I sit here, the week after a major national competition, I am reminded of a speech I heard ONCE! A speech that made an impact on me about “words”. I wonder how many words were spoken through speech and debate last week at the NCFCA National Championship? I wonder how many students cried after they didn’t advance and they now think that their words have no more purpose? Or how many students were disappointed after making it to finals, yet not presenting their speech in The Showcase Of Excellence? This journey does not have to be over!! I am here to tell you… this is just the beginning! Your words and speeches can continue! You can continue to have a lasting impact… all you have to do is find another opportunity to share your heart, your message, your words…

Have you ever felt like people aren’t listening when you speak to them? That what you’re saying just isn’t coming across the way you want it to? Sometimes, people just don’t want to hear what we have to say, but there are things that we can do with our words and our voices to make people want to listen. The Elizabethans described language as decorated silence. They thought of words as something that could be very beautiful, but should also be used with care.

In the Bible, the tongue is described as a fire that can set entire forests ablaze. (ESV, James 3:3-5) Our words are powerful. So today I will be talking a little bit about how we can decorate our silence well, and communicate effectively, and we’ll be looking at this in two parts: the words we use and how we use them.

First, the words we use. It seems like a pretty simple idea at first–everyone has heard at some point in their lives that fateful phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And when we’re trying to get someone to listen to us, it sounds like some pretty solid advice. Rule number one of getting people to do what you want: you want them to like you. But I’ll be the first to admit that this is a lot easier said than done. Thankfully, there’s a simple acronym that can help.

HAIL- stands for honesty, authenticity, integrity, and love. Honesty is pretty clearly defined as being truthful in what we say. Authenticity is a little less clearly defined as just “being yourself.” Authenticity is being real and genuine with what we say, and true to who we are. Integrity is the ability to stick to your word. People will respect us for this, and in turn, be more likely to listen to what we have to say. And lastly, love. Not the romantic kind, but do hold on to a sense of wishing the other person well, of genuinely caring for their wellbeing and happiness, because people can tell when we care. Think of someone you know who has these qualities. Chances are, you look up to them, respect them, and when they speak, you probably listen. The whole point of using the HAIL acronym is to become more like that.

Now that we’ve looked at what to say, and the words to use, we’re really only halfway there. Our voice alone has so much ability to express meaning even without throwing words into the mix. We all have our very own vocal toolbox, and knowing how to use our vocal tools can help us to become better communicators. The first is register, or the range of your voice. I can speak in a falsetto register, or I can make it deeper. Interestingly, evidence points to the idea that a lower register may make us seem more in charge. We tend to vote for politicians with lower voices, and it may even impact our jobs. A study published by Duke University and the University of California found that CEOs with deeper voices also had higher salaries and managed larger companies. Timbre is another vocal tool. People tend to like voices that are warm and rich. I don’t know about you, but I am extremely familiar with the LEGO Movie (having younger siblings will do that to a person). In the movie, one of the characters was voiced by Morgan Freeman. After the credits, there’s a short clip where his character says something like this: “It was an honor to be portrayed by the golden voice of Morgan Freeman. That man could read a phonebook and make it sound interesting… 555-3492… Mmm, just listen to that rich molasses.” Ok, obviously, I’m not Morgan Freeman, but use your imagination because this is actually a good description of timbre.

Next is prosody, or inflection. Listening to someone who uses no or very little inflection in their speaking is a little bit like listening to a robot. Not only is this irritating, it gets very…. very… boring. Then again, I can speak with inflection but use the wrong kind of inflection. And end every sentence as if it were a question? Even though I’m not asking a question? Here’s one that any family with children will be all too familiar with: volume. There is, of course, a time and a place for the use of volume, but it can be very beneficial. You’ll see motivational speakers use this technique a lot; get louder and more passionate as they reach the impact of their speech or get very, very soft and make you really pay attention to every word. In his “I have a dream… ” speech and other speeches, Martin Luther King Jr. conveyed his passion for the civil rights movement through his speaking style. If you’ve never listened to a recording of one of his speeches, I highly recommend it. He spoke in such a way that people couldn’t help but listen, and part of the reason for this was the power and sincerity behind his words, which was partially conveyed by his dynamic use of volume. For this last one, I’m going to share with you a quote that really exemplifies this tool by one of my favorite speakers of all time: the Silent Monk. “…” Maybe you guessed it, but our last tool is silence. Sadly, in today’s world, there doesn’t seem to be much of a place for silence. But this is a shame, because silence can lend a sense of gravity to our speaking. It gives you time to reflect on what I’ve just said and to let it sink in…

So there you have it: five vocal tools to help you communicate with the world. But how important are they really? I mean, they’re certainly useful if you have to teach a class or interview for a job, or give a speech, but is that it? I say no, it isn’t. Imagine what the world would be like if every person spoke intentionally and communicated effectively. How many conflicts, big and small, could be avoided if both parties spoke with honesty, authenticity, integrity, and love. And even more, if they said those things in a way that communicated their honesty, authenticity, integrity, and love. In today’s world, where the things we say can be transmitted across the globe like this (*snap fingers*), good communication is more vital than ever. So let it start with you. Thank you.

This was written by an awesome Lasting Impact! intern. Her name will be released after she graduates.

So, let me ask you… where will your speech go next? Where will your words take you?