Here I speak of Power Words for Business.
Words are the stuff of power.
Anyone who works with words for a living knows their power. Well, let me issue a caveat. Anyone who works with words ought to know their power.
Every profession has its power words. Words that elicit emotion. Power words that move people to action.
When we use the right power words for business presentations, the effect on an audience can be electric.
And this is why we should be concerned about power words for business.
Power Words for Business
Words have power. A power that is amorphous, deceptive, difficult to master, if it is at all possible to master.
It’s necessary to respect words and their function. To understand the visceral strength in well-structured phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that hang together seamlessly in such a tight formation that a reader cannot imagine them written in any other way.
While teaching writing is not my primary function, I do provide fundamental instruction of a Strunk and White nature so as to raise the bar to an acceptable level. Before you eye-roll at such a rudimentary approach, let me assure you that today’s undergraduate students desperately need the salving coolness of William Strunk and E.B. White. If only for clarity, concision, and pith.
For the pleasure of reading Strunk and White’s masterpiece, The Elements of Style. For it is a minor joy to read. To re-read.
Many young people – not all, but enough – want to be creative and innovative, to think outside of that box we always hear about. I note that they must first understand the box and what it contains before they can profitably “think outside” of it. Because likely what they consider fresh and new and sparkling has been done before.
Cliches heard for the first time are like that.
They must understand how words fit together to convey ideas, notions, fact and fiction. They must understand the communicative function of words as well as their evocative power.
Power words for business can imbue a business presentation with impact and energy.
Just as power words against business have been in use for decades. So much so, they’ve become shopworn cliches.
Power Words Against Business
I urge students to recognize tendentious surliness masquerading as neutrality, entire social, political, cultural arguments embodied in single phrases – sometimes single words. Listen for those arguments that use power words against business.
They must recognize sloganeering in their own writing and arguments. If not, they face being caught short when challenged on a lack of depth or understanding.
Recognize sloganeering in your writing.
At the risk of agitation, let me detour into the realm of the classroom, where words that characterize well-hashed issues come freighted with all kinds of baggage.
Certain phrases can embody one-sided faux arguments. Anti-business arguments with no substance.
Power words against business.
“Widening gap between rich and poor” is one of those tropes. It has become a kneejerk pejorative. Regrettably, it’s used more frequently by young people these days and some of my overeager colleagues.
They supposedly identify a “problem” that must be corrected without pausing in their feverish idealism to recognize that the gap between rich and poor is always getting wider. This happens whether an economy is strong or weak.
It’s the nature of economic growth.
The proper question to ask is this: “Is everyone getting richer and better off than before in a dynamic and thriving economy?”
Or is the situation one in which the poor are getting poorer with no chance or even hope of improvement? These are two quite different situations, conflated by the trope “widening gap between rich and poor.”
Making the distinction, however, brings more complexity into the picture than some folks feel comfortable with. The issue no longer fits on a bumper sticker.
It’s almost too much to bear the notion that “everyone is better off” while simultaneously there is a “widening gap between rich and poor.”
“Everyone is better off” is a first-rate example of power words for business presentations.
Single words sometimes embody entire arguments.
This relieves the user of the burden to make the point of the begged question. In my own bailiwick, “sweatshop” is one such politically and socially freighted word. As in the “debate over sweatshops.” In my classes on Globalization, this “debate” is addressed forthrightly.
But in its proper terms and in its proper context.
The preening certitude of a person posturing against “sweatshops” is a sight to behold. No gray area, no moral conundrums. It seems as clear-cut an issue as anyone could imagine. It’s like arguing against “dirty dishtowels.” There is no pro “dirty dishtowel” lobby. Just as there is no pro “sweatshop” lobby.
See how easy to get on the side of the angels? Who other than an evil exploiter could possibly take a stand for “sweatshops?” Right. No one does.
A part of me envies that kind of hard-boned simplicity. It’s borne of shallow naivete.
“Cultural Imperialism” Anyone?
Hand-in-hand with “sweatshops” comes something called “cultural imperialism.”
This is merely a pejorative reaction against the introduction of goods and services and ideas into modernizing societies. Such “cultural imperialism” supposedly constitutes an attack on the “traditional way of life” and local culture.
In my lectures to Russian students in Izhevsk and in Ufa, Bashkortostan, I meet this kind of attitude quite frequently, as if someone is compelling locals to drink Coca-Cola, to smoke Marlboros, to wear Italian shoes, or to dine at Chinese restaurants.
The call for preserving “traditional” ways of life smacks of condescension of the worst type. It is, for example, an attitude that suggests that locking subsistence farmers into their pristine “traditional” circumstances as delightful subjects for exotic picture postcards is a positive.
“Traditional” is one of those power words against business. When you hear it as part of an argument, look closely for anti-business bias. You’ll find it.
Some students are angry and somewhat confused when I note that all that is offered is a choice.
Choice is one of those Power Words for Business.
A choice to work as one’s ancestors did, ankle-deep in dung-filled water of rice paddies, or to work in a new factory, earning more money in one day than the traditional villager might ever see in a year.
A choice to purchase goods and services previously unavailable.
A choice to live better.
Exploitation . . . or Choice?
A choice, that’s all. An alternative.
Some people, professional activists among them, just don’t like the choice being offered, even as earlier there was no choice. There was no chance for improvement.
Rather than offer their own range of additional choices, these folks harass those companies that provide economic opportunity, a chance for a better life. The chance for newly empowered local workers to earn beyond subsistence wages and to then spend money at the kiosks that quickly spring up courtesy of entrepreneurs who instinctively know how the market works.
The chance to utilize the new roads built by the foreign company as part of infrastructure improvement.
So, in my classes, I refer to Nike and other firms that manufacture abroad as establishing Economic Opportunity Centers throughout the developing world. Companies that expand the range of economic choices open to local workers.
Power Words for Business – Economic Opportunity Centers
Some students express a kind of confused disbelief that local factories contracted by Nike (Nike does not own or operate them) could in any sense of the phrase be called Economic Opportunity Centers. But, in fact, that phrase is more accurate as to what is actually happening when compared in many cases to a subsistence farming economy that it augments.
With that point made, we shift to compromise language of a more neutral cast – Nike and many other companies that contract manufacturing with local producers are engaged in Economic Activity Abroad.
Whether that activity is in some sense “good” or “bad” depends upon whom you ask – an activist sitting in an air conditioned Washington office, hands steepled, giving an interview to National Public Radio on the evils of Globalization? Or a young foreign worker, who now has a choice and a chance to work indoors, to earn more money than before, to better his lot and that of his family.
A choice and a chance to move up.
A choice that earlier was not available.
If we then proceed from less politically charged premises, we can then understand the actual dynamics at work, building from the ground-up. At the end of the discussion – which is usually vigorous give and take – an understanding emerges that economic activity abroad in the form of contract manufacturing has both positive and negative aspects.
Power Words for Business Presentations
Now, I have dipped into the hot, turbid political waters of Globalization only because that happens to be the topic at hand for me now, daily.
I have roamed a bit, but the theme that runs through this essay, I think, is the power of words – to persuade, to deceive, to communicate, to obfuscate.
Power Words against business have been used far too long without challenge. Realize that we can harness Power Words for Business and leaven our business presentations with impact, immediacy, and positivity.
Regardless of one’s opinion of the issues I surfaced here to illustrate the theme, I believe that folks in this forum recognize more than most this especially powerful medium.
Whatever conclusions my students arrive at with regard to the debates at hand, they will have at least been exposed to the power of words for business and the subtlety of language.
Words are the stuff of power.
For more on the power of words for business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.