There’s no denying that Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for this fall’s presidential election in the U.S., gets attention. Love him or hate him, he knows how to snap people’s heads around and open ears.
George Orwell, an early 20th century English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic, believed that clear and concise language could expose tyranny, failed logic, and lies – so much so that the term ‘Orwellian’ now means, ironically, a ‘cynical manipulation of language’.
Whether Orwell would have been a fan of The Donald and how he uses Orwell’s language principles we’ll never know, but here are a few lessons based on Mr. Trump’s communication style we can apply when communicating with non-farming audiences:
- Simplicity: Many observers have noted that Trump’s level of grammar in his public addresses averages at a sixth grade level. One might think that keeping things ‘simple’ is an insult to a well-educated consumer, but simplicity is vastly underestimated: making something easy to understand is directly correlated not only to ease of comprehension, but to its appeal. Furthermore, numerous psychological studies have shown that what is easy to understand is perceived as more truthful.
- Repetition: Another particularly useful rhetorical device that Trump uses is repetition. Repeating the same word or words in successive sentences, clauses or paragraphs builds excitement, helps emphasize your ideas, and drives your point home. Consider the impact of Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech where he repeats “I have a dream” eight times in succession.
- Talk, don’t lecture: Trump’s habit of speaking off-the-cuff doesn’t always serve him well, but the conversational style does draw his audience in. While it’s a good idea to prepare key messages you hope to work into your conversation, rehearsed, or worse yet, lecture format speeches, will not give you the results you are hoping for. I’m sure it isn’t hard to remember a meeting or class you’ve attended where you caught yourself zoning out, most likely because the speaker/professor was working from notes and/or was intent on imparting knowledge TO you rather than converse WITH you. Unscripted moments and spontaneous exchanges are the most powerful.
- Use aspirational words: When articulating a vision of what you see as the solution to a particular issue, use words that paint a picture of what the solution you want to create looks like. To achieve this, you’ll want to use bold, inspiring, descriptive language. Again, no flowery prose; keep it simple to be relatable.
- Speak like a leader: To sound like a leader you’ll need to use words that bring your inner passion and convictions to life. The Donald is nothing if not passionate and it’s obvious in every speech he makes.
Donald Trump might not be the next Martin Luther King (or even the next president), but he sure knows how to make an impression and leave his audience wanting more!