I was interviewed for an article in the Financial Times on the subtle secrets of charisma.
Here is an excerpt:
Tapping into rhythms of speech and developing an appreciation of what is easy on the ear are important, says Steven Cohen, who teaches oral communication skills at the University of Maryland and the Harvard Extension School, an offshoot of the university that runs open-enrolment courses. His favourite techniques are anaphora and epistrophe. The first device repeats words or phrases at the start of successive clauses, as in Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. The second repeats them at the end, as in Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral refrain “Yes We CAN!”. “Just as music can stir the emotions, language that appeals to the ear can lift people’s sights and spirits, inspiring them to do things that they would otherwise not,” he says.
However, even when sentences have a musical quality, it is often everyday language that works best. US president John F. Kennedy’s famously used chiasmus – in which the second half of a statement reverses the order of words in the first − as in “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. The words were simple and direct – and their impact all the greater.
Ultimately, however, sincerity is vital. It is not just what you say, or how you say it, that convinces people you are not phoney. As Prof Cohen puts it: “You can dress things up with all the anaphora and epistrophe in the world, but if you don’t have a deep sense that something is important you’re not going to persuade anyone.”