Two years ago I wrote an article snappily entitled “Print power in an attention deficit economy”, where I discussed the topic of printed vs digital text, and whether or not there is a preference. If you haven’t read it, you can read it here. Today, in the long awaited sequel, I'm exploring the far less cleverly titled, yet incredibly complicated topic of ‘words’, and more specifically the consumption of words.In my role as Head of Marketing and Communications at Tribal, and as an English language enthusiast, I talk a lot about words and how they can be used to tell stories. At the age of eight or nine, I learnt at school, the concept of anthropomorphism, “that’s a fun word” I thought and just like that, I was a language fan. At a similar age, I would study the advertisements whilst my parents watched TV and make comments about their meaning or whether or not I would buy their products based on their story… “If they did degrees in TV advertising you’d get a First” my father would say. Fast forward 25 years and I'm fortunate enough to be working with some of the world’s best higher education institutions, who provide degrees in just that.
In our everyday lives, we use words verbally to tell stories, comfort loved ones, and explain harsh truths. Words can be gentle and subtle as a breeze, or as devastatingly powerful as a hurricane. They have been used to inspire the masses, to challenge tyrants and to educate generations.
How many times a day do you see someone scratch their head and hear them say ‘what’s the word?’ when the truth is, there are lots of words (there are over 600,000 in the Oxford English Dictionary alone). But it’s the right word we’re looking for. Your lexical choice can be your armour and your companion. After all, communication is about fitting the words to the world with human understanding – as language evolves - so does our communication. Our choice of word can often reflect our culture, who we are and our level of intellect. Hence why you scratch your head looking for the ‘mot juste’.
But something happens, when we go to write them down. Writers often talk about ‘tone of voice’ when copy-writing. It’s because not only are the words themselves important, but the way they are put together. The reader really needs to ‘feel’ what the writer is trying to say, and the best way of doing this is to use the words to tell a story.
Here’s the science bit. Storytelling releases a chemical ‘feel good’ in the brain, making us feel good and more positive. It’s how we learn. 65% of communications is storytelling and we can increase memory recall by giving information in the form of a story. Using the ‘power of three’ method of storytelling, the brain creates clusters and can cope with three basic messages i.e three bullet points, three points of a triangle etc. We are programmed to inherently believe stories – they are a mild form of hypnosis – we adopt a relaxed state with direct access to the subconscious. Stories can cue subconscious emotions which can then directly influence beliefs and behaviours.
Much like the words we choose, stories form our identities “we are the stories we want to tell, minus the stories no one wants to hear”. They ignite the imagination – they make messages relevant by drawing on the reader or listener’s own emotion or past experience. They drive collective thinking – as all stories have the same basic formula – we set the scenes to echo this and the reader/listener will fill in the gaps.
Far too often we rely on the words that we use every day. They are easy to consume and easy to recall – but where does ‘easy’ leave our language?
However you choose to consume and select your words, language is evolving. We’re building history without even trying. In March 2016 the Oxford English Dictionary added 500 words to the 600,000 plus words already in the English language. Like it or not words like ‘Vlog’ and ‘bro-hug’ are likely to be part of our heritage in 100 years. And some more ‘traditional’ words will become relegated to the language grave-yard as they begin to fall by the wayside of our vocabulary preference. I'm not saying this to highlight whether it’s ‘good or bad’, that’s irrelevant, I'm advocating the use of all language, having fun with words, expanding the depths of our stories and giving us the ability to use words creatively without belittling your reader.
Words – traditional or new - should be celebrated and we should all be encouraged to embrace language to communicate. And whilst I'm no publishing guru, I am pleased that the number of published books has steadily increased over the last 15 years, with more and more people choosing to self-publish eBooks. It’s also great to see parents and children alike celebrating World Book Day… even if these three short words have the ability to reduce a grown adult to tears when trying to cobble together an outfit from iron on felt and odd buttons that their children will be proud of come the following morning.
And of course, I work for Tribal. Our corporate charity, the Tribal Foundation supports the ReadWell charity, our very own ePortfolio solution (e-track) supports and facilitates online and digital based ‘coursework’ and naturally, we’re proud to be supporting learning of the English Language through our GoLearn online learning platform. Our business is education, and like any organisation, we use our words to tell our ‘story’…. Read our stories on www.tribalgroup.com. But my biggest request, is to just read full-stop. Embrace language, become a wordsmith and be creative with your stories. It’s a dull life without profound language syntax.