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Sep
28

Language Used to Engage

When I was young, my mother took me to libraries and museums to listen to stories. The biggest thrill I had wasn’t at the end of the stories; it was the journey, the optimism, the promise that by committing to this voyage, you may receive big payoff at the end. I loved the tension created by the trek. Would the hero slay the villain? How will the hero go from rags to riches? How will a certain character redeem themselves after a tragic fall from grace?

Looking back, these stories helped me learn to dream, raised my awareness to the positive tension of mystery and instilled a curious desire to search for answers. It made me aware that obstacles were opportunities, not burdens. All of these lessons from those youthful stories created an exciting and charged atmosphere that has continually kept me engaged and curious throughout my life.

Back then, I never paid much attention to the language the storytellers used. I was too interested in where the twists and the turns and dead-ends would or could happen. Now, thanks to my profession, I focus on the linguistic devices used within the stories that give them an engaging effect. I listen to business people tell their companies’ stories, and I’ve noticed my students relied on the continual use of have to.

Your clients will love your dreams of making the word a better place for them

“We have to plan.” “We have to have fun.” “We have to do the laundry.” “We have to fall in love.”  “We have to make love.” The last one was maybe said at a company Christmas party, but it made me think, “My word! When it comes right down to it, there seem to be only a few Finns who do anything on their own volition. What happened to excitement?” In the stories I listen to, every decision people make seems, well … designed as more of a horrible, slavish duty and less of the pleasure and opportunity it is.

Drawing attention to the way people use “have to” tends to make them defensive. “We learn it’s the same as ‘must’ in school,” they say. In a way, must is the same as have to, except without the grudging sense of being forced to do it. At least I struggle to find examples of have to that don’t have the feeling of being obligated to do it, either from someone else or from an elevated feeling of guilt.

I don’t believe Finns want to feel burdened and fated to the world. They have optimism, but they struggle to articulate it confidently. Ever since I was a child I was told to “dream big,” “shoot for the stars,” “raise your standards to great heights.” That wasn’t clichéd advice. That was language advice.

Really inspirational stories speak about the future and use future-oriented modal structures – will, going to, can, and could all highlight possibilities. When faced with potential obstacles, we use would like to, and even must. The verb have to is hardly ever used in an optimistic setting. Potential has a crescendo, an excitement, a building effect. The future, in and of itself, is a dream – an indefinite unknown full of amazing possibilities and solutions.

The moral then becomes this: do you want your company to be portrayed as grudgingly fulfilling some slavish duty, or do you want to see your company to see obstacles as exciting journeys filled with future opportunities? If it’s the latter you want, tell them what you would like to do. Your clients will love your dreams of making the word a better place for them.

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Storytelling Language skills Language training Working life

Blake Schumacher

Blake Schumacher

Blake Schumacher is a language trainer with 16 years’ experience. Through positive facilitation techniques he identifies and provides language advice that will enable clients to effectively get their messages through.

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