The reason a cliche becomes a cliche is because it has been overused and lost its originality and impact. For this very reason, presenters are warned to stay away from using cliches in their speeches.
Phrases such as “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me“; “your attitude determines your altitude“; and “whether you believe you can or can’t, you’re right“, were powerful when they were originally uttered. But they’ve been used so often by so many speakers, the words now fall flat and fail to motivate audiences. Looking at the examples I’ve just used, you can see why you would want to stay away from using tired cliches in your speeches.
But before we throw the baby out with the bath water (sorry, I couldn’t resist), let’s look at a couple reasons you should use cliches.
The first reason to use a cliche was demonstrated in my last sentence. Audiences understand what it means to throw the baby out with the bath water. I realize there might be some cultural exceptions, but the phrase effectively conjures up an image and gets your point across. Since you want your message to be easily understood, there are times when an old, tired cliche will work quite well.
Another reason to use a cliche is to challenge your audience to think differently. In addition to being overused, most cliches are generally accepted as being true. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and “knowledge is power” are just two that come to mind.
If you wanted to get your audience thinking, you could say something like:
“We’ve always been told that “knowledge is power”. But is that really true? Does knowing information really make you more powerful?Well let’s examine that for a minute …
We know we should exercise, eat a balanced diet and get sufficient rest, but that doesn’t mean we do it.
We know we should think before speaking out of anger, but do we consistently demonstrate that in our actions?
We have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things that could make our lives richer and more fulfilling, but we often don’t do them. And if we do them, it’s often not on a consistent basis.
Knowledge puts us in a position of power, but the power truly comes when we take what we know and apply it to our lives consistently.”
Give it a shot (ahem). Take an old, tired cliche and search for a new way to use it in your next speech. It will be like … like … a breath of fresh air to your audience … SORRY!
John Watkis is a Toronto-based freelance speechwriter who helps his clients use the right words at the right time in the right way so they can educate, influence and inspire their audiences.
For more of his tips on public speaking and to receive your FREE “Successful Speeches Toolkit”, visit http://www.wellwrittenwellsaid.com/freetoolkit.html
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