Use Word Choice To Project Your Speaking Persona

I recently listened to a senior executive deliver a Town Hall presentation.  During the course of his speech, he reiterated variations of the refrain “I am so proud…”  When I asked the speaker if his word choice was intentional, he revealed that it was not.  However, he immediately realized that this word choice positioned him as a father figure for his team.

Every speech should have a purpose – to educate/inform, inspire, motivate/call-to-action, persuade, or entertain.  Every speech should have a core message or theme as its backbone.  Every speech should have a central metaphor.  The Town Hall speech opened my eyes to how important it is to premeditate the persona that the speaker wishes to project.

In the realm of corporate branding, this is an old concept.  Especially in the business-to-consumer world, companies strive to project a particular brand archetype.  This concept was popularized by Carol Pearson and Margaret Mark in their 2001 book “The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through The Power of Archetypes.”

12 Brand Archetypes

With full credit to Ms. Pearson and Ms. Mark, here is my adaptation of brand archetypes to the language of public speaking. I have provided in parenthesis example companies that embody each one.

1. Everyman: The “Everyman” affects change through selflessness and belonging with words such as “we” (instead of “I” or “you”) and “together.” (ex: Levi’s)

2. Caregiver:  The “Caregiver” affects change through compassion, safety, generosity, and protection with parental language such as  “pride” and “support.” (ex: Volvo)

3. Sage: The “Sage” affects change by sharing knowledge with a words such as “teach” and “share”. (ex: New York Times)

4. Explorer: The “Explorer” affects change through independence and daring with words such as “discover” and “uncover.” (ex: Jeep)

5. Hero: The “Hero” affects change through courage and competence with words including “overcome” or “conquer.” (ex: Nike)

6. Magician: The magician affects wondrous change through cleverness and will use words including “astonish”, “surprise”, and “reveal.” (ex: Disney)

7. Revolutionary: The “Revolutionary” affects change by challenging authority and the status-quo.  This persona is also known as the Outlaw or Rebel.  As such, speakers projecting this persona might use “overthrow”, “challenge”, or “struggle.” (ex: Harley Davidson)

8. Jester: The “Jester” affects change through mischief and fun.  This persona will be expressed principally through a tone of humor and ridicule rather than by means of specific words. (ex: Burger King)

9. Lover: The “Lover” affects change through hope and sensory experience with words such as “delight”, “feel”, and “dream.”  This persona is also known as the Idealist or Dreamer. (ex: Godiva)

10. Ruler: The “Ruler” affects change through status and power with language such as “I” and “tell (you)”.  Too many executives intentionally or unintentionally project this persona which project authority without building loyalty. (ex: Mercedes)

11. Creator: The “Creator” affects change through innovation and imagination with words like “create” and “invent.” (ex: Lego)

12. Innocent: The “Innocent” affects change through simplicity and morality with words such as “faith” and “ease”. (ex: Cotton)

Try It Out

The words you choose will affect the way that your audience receives your message.  Some archetypes put you on an authoritative pedestal including the Ruler, the Magician, and the Sage.  Others may be too irreverent for corporate settings such as the Jester and the Revolutionary.  I feel the most appropriate personas keep you eye-t0-eye with your audience.  These include the Everyman, the Caregiver, and the mentored Hero.  Next time you speak, premeditate the persona you wish to project and tune the language and tone accordingly.