The Power of Words

At the heart of every information product is the core element of words.  Even if the information is a picture or video, when we go to describe it or tell our friends, we use words.  Words are the most powerful tool on the planet.  As infopreneurs, we use them every day in our products, our messaging, our social networking, our marketing, and our feedback.

How we use words can make or break an information product.  The right words can inspire, transform, guide, enlighten, heal, and engage.  The wrong words can offend, alienate, depress, hurt, and disengage. How can we choose the right words that serve our clients, ourselves and the world?

Too often we take the power of words for granted.  We have millions of them.  We use them every day.  There is no shortage of them.  They’re just “words”.  They don’t do anything.  What difference does it make how we use words?

All the difference in the world.

Words can inspire.  Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired the civil rights movement with his words, most famously captured in his “I have a dream” speech.  John F. Kennedy used  words to inspire a generation to explore space and win the race to put man on the moon.  Barack Obama rose to national prominence with his “Audacity to Hope” speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention and inspired a nation with a political campaign that resulted in his election as President.  Mahatma Gandhi led India to independence with his “Quit India” speech and inspired the world with his philosophy of nonviolent resistance.

Words can do great things, but they can also do great harm.  Every day, every hour, every minute we get to choose.  What words do we use?  How do we use them?  What is their intended effect?

It is the power of words that inspires me to be an infopreneur.  Saying the right words, in the right way, can change lives for the better.  It is an awesome responsibility that I do not take lightly.  And neither should you.

At a recent event, I heard a speaker give a thoughtful and insightful presentation about the strategy of big business.  The presentation was clear, professional, well organized, and succinct, taking only 30 minutes.  Even though I do not work in or with big businesses, I gained a lot of value thinking about each of the 9 “lessons” that comprised the strategic plan.  For each lesson, I started thinking about how I could apply it to my own business strategy.  It gave me a fresh perspective, new energy, hope for building a business that is even bigger or better than I imagined before the presentation.

But then, a surprising thing happened.  At the end of the presentation, the speaker asked for questions.  No one in the audience raised their hand.  To get the conversation going, the speaker asked for feedback on the presentation.  Almost immediately, the audience responded with comments.  One person stood up and said “I was bored and almost got up in the middle!  I was bored to tears.  If it was a website, I would have been out of there”.   The speaker was magnanimous, allowing the person to expand on their criticism without restraint. 

I was in shock.  Was I listening to the same presentation?  Why was the feedback so critical?  How could this person be so rude?

My heart stopped.  I felt so bad for the speaker because: (1) the presentation was great; (2) clearly the speaker had spent time and effort to share valuable insights; and (3) no one was paying money to attend the event.  How could someone be so critical…it seemed so mean.  The speaker handled it well, but I felt that there was a huge injustice.  Rather than help the speaker improve the presentation, this purely negative feedback could do nothing but discourage the speaker (or me or perhaps anyone in the audience who has a fear of speaking) from ever getting up on stage.

Was it just me?

After the presentation, many people commented that the feedback was inappropriate and cruel.    To be honest, the speaker made one mistake.  The presentation was extremely valuable and insightful, but it did not connect the dots.  The audience was comprised of entrepreneurs and small business owners.  What did they know or care about big business?  And that was the problem.  The audience expected that the speaker would put their presentation in terms that were relevant to them.  They had trouble connecting the dots.  How did big business strategy apply to their small business?

For each of the 9 lessons, I was taking notes and thinking in my head how my tiny law firm could apply each lesson in practical terms.  Dozens of ideas were flooding my brain.  I noticed that most people  were not taking notes.  They were just sitting there waiting for the speaker to give them the answers, feed them information, and provide the key to fame and fortune without effort of any kind on their part.

Yes, it would have been better for the speaker to help the audience make the connection, to make each point relevant to small business.  But how did we get to this point of entitlement, expecting the presenter to do all the work.  Wasn’t it President Kennedy who said “Ask not what the country can do for you…ask what you can do for the country!”  Why is it that speakers must hand great information to us on a silver platter.  And, if they don’t, there is a sense of entitlement that we were robbed of our time.

Perhaps, the answer is that in this information age, time is our most precious commodity.  We value our time even more than money, even more than people, even more than feelings.  Perhaps, we are spoiled by television, the internet, and social networking.  Be relevant, authentic, and inspiring or you will be chastised.  Speaking today is more about “edutainment” than an exchange of ideas.

Sad to think that might be true, but we can do better.  Feedback is not an entitlement, it is a gift.  It a way of communicating valuable information that can help others.  Comments that are critical in nature only, without appreciating the positive, are harmful, with little benefit except for their shock value.  A cheap shot.  They do not serve the person making the comments, nor do they serve the person receiving the comments.  Criticism alone is not constructive, it is destructive.

Words, even in our comments and feedback, are powerful.  Words can make people laugh.  Words can make people cry.  Words can make people fall in love.  A slight change in words can be the difference between resolution of a dispute or the beginning of war.  I do not think the person who gave the criticism intended to be mean.  I met him and found him to be, ironically, a very positive person.  I think he is more a product of our modern day culture, where we start to emulate the aggressive, insensitive  critical nature of our social media and broadcast television.

As information entrepreneurs, we owe each other something more than criticism.  We owe each other the support of how to make our information products better, more relevant, more inspiring.  If you are ever asked for feedback, consider both the positive and the negative.  Choose your words carefully.  Being honest and authentic is important to everyone, but not recognizing the core value of what is presented and only focusing on the criticism sends the wrong message and often does more harm than good.   When making comments consider using the feedback sandwich, and before you speak, check to make sure all your comments, both good and bad, are coming from a place that will serve others as well as yourself.

Words are powerful.  How we choose to use them is even more powerful.  We all have the power of words.  How can you use your power for good?

Roger Glovsky is co-founder of Indigo Venture Law Offices, a business law firm based in Colorado and Massachusetts, which provides legal counsel to entrepreneurs and high-tech businesses. Mr. Glovsky is also founder of InfoCrowd, a networking group for information entrepreneurs and an infopreneur himself, actively changing the way law is practiced by converting his legal knowledge into legal strategies.

One Response to “The Power of Words

  • I too was at this meeting. I did take notes and was excited as to how these ‘big business’ ideas and practices could be applied to my ‘micro business.’ There were very valuable nuggets that were presented

    Thank you Roger for posting this. I was, quite frankly, surprised and appalled with the lack of respect paid to this very well respected member of the Infopreneur Meetup.

    Debbie Stolz