Communicating with Fresh and Compelling Language

bored lol cat exciting language

We associate the “sound bite” with television.

Capture your idea in an entertaining 20 seconds and increase the likelihood of making the 11 p.m. news.

The same concept exists in print journalism.

At the risk of oversimplifying, given a choice between dull or exciting, reporters will take exciting every time.

One of my all-time favorite lines goes back to supporting Philips in the mid 1980s when they were launching CD-ROM technology. A reporter was pressing Rob Moes, the VP of marketing for Philips, for projections on how many units (CD-ROM drives) would be sold looking out five years. Rob’s knee-jerk response: “That’s like asking Mrs. Magellan how many lunches to pack.”

In honor of this classic, I’m creating “Moes Takes” which joins “Iron Reporter” as a regular blog feature. Moes Takes will call out entertaining quotes from recent publications as well as how they might appear if dulled down.

Without further adieu -

“The market may be crazy, but that doesn’t make you a psychiatrist.”

Meir Statman, Finance Professor at Santa Clara University
Inefficient Markets Are Still Hard to Beat
The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 9, 2010)

The juxtaposition of crazy and psychiatrist makes for great wit.

Dulled-down version:

“The markets are erratic so it’s extremely difficult for the average person to understand.”

Next up:

“States are cutting bones and they’re big bones. These are all femurs.”

Arturo Perez, Fiscal Analyst for National Conference of State Legislators
48 States Desperate for Revenue (only available in print)
San Francisco Chronicle (Jan. 17, 2010)

Any time you can channel from your high school bio class, you’ve got a winner.

Dulled-down version:

“The states are reducing budgets to the bare minimum. Everyone is making large reductions.”

And finally:

“Pennsylvania has the potential to become the OPEC of natural gas. It’s mind boggling. It will have an impact on Pennsylvania’s economy not seen since the collapse of the steel industry.”

Robert Watson, Associate Professor Emeritus of Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering
“Natural Gas Changes the Energy Map” (only available online by subscription)
Technology Review (Nov./Dec. 2009)

Can’t see the”OPEC of natural gas” being adopted as the state slogan, but works nicely as a quote.

Dulled-down version:

“Pennsylvania could become the world leader in natural gas. It should provide a boost to the state’s economy which never recovered from the decline of the steel industry.”

If you’ve uncovered an extraordinary quote or two, please post a comment or e-mail them my way (lhoffman at hoffman dot com) and I’ll try to use them in future posts.

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2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Casey Hibbard January 25th, 2010 1:20 pm

    Hi Lou,

    Thanks for the detailed examples here. It’s a good reminder that we stand out by speaking colorfully.

    I’m usually in the position of collecting quotes from folks. While we each can control how interesting our own quotes are, it’s tough to get others to give you quotes like this. Most of the time I’m working with fairly stodgy quotes, unfortunately.

  2. Lou Hoffman January 25th, 2010 1:29 pm

    Casey,

    I agree with you.

    It’s a challenge to coach executives, particularly those who come from technical orientations, to come up with that one quote that has a wrinkle.

    Plus, pushing the executive too far out of his/her comfort zone isn’t the answer because then it doesn’t come across as real (because it’s not).

    Sometimes, it’s just changing one or two words that elevate a quote from dull to compelling.

    At the very least, being conversational and talking like a real human can put the talk a cut above the norm … even if it’s not David-Letterman grade.

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