The trendy words and phrases that we know as “corporate speak” tarnish any communication, but using them in a persuasive appeal can be particularly risky.

For a persuasive message to influence an audience, people need to see or hear concrete language, words that link to real people, places, objects, and concepts that everyone is familiar with. That language helps the audience to grasp your message and visualize the impact or ramifications.

Buzzwords such as “leverage,” “mission-critical,” “cutting-edge,” and “functionality” do not move people to action, because the words not only are boring cliches but they are vague. Persuasion often requires that you connect with an audience emotionally; these words do not.

Let’s say you are trying to persuade employees to enroll in a recycling effort. To illustrate the extent of the country’s landfill problem, you cannot take each employee and plant her waist-deep in the dump to stress the consequences of not recycling. That would be similar to the approach of Toastmasters, which teaches you how to be a better public speaker by putting you in front a live audience and having you give a presentation. In most persuasive messages, you do not recreate the experience; your words are all you have to work with. Choose words, examples, and analogies that are meaningful to people.


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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at

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