Sometimes A Cigar Really Is Just A Cigar. | Bruce Turkel

Randy Gage taught me how to deliver a keynote speech.
His main theme? A keynote speech is a speech about a single thought you want your audience to follow, understand, and learn.

His supporting evidence? The name keynote speech.

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According to Gage, the name “keynote” explains exactly what the presentation should be – a speech about a single message. A key note speech, get it? Once you see Gage’s way, could it be any clearer?

Because I’m lucky enough to be on Melissa Francis’ show and others on FOX a few times a week, friends call me when they’re going to be on TV. I don’t do media training but I’ve taken enough of it—and been on TV enough now—that I can sometimes make some useful recommendations.

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One thing that’s become clear to me is that the interviewer on whatever show I’m lucky enough to be on actually represents the viewers themselves. Johnny Carson represented a wide swath of the American audience back when advertisers cared about white middle class viewers. Larry King appealed to so many viewers because he was an everyman (a big schnook like the rest of us) in awe of the celebrities he was interviewing. Oprah Winfrey represented a new emerging audience, not just African-American, but female and empowered.

Anderson Cooper looks young enough to be handsomely aspirational to middle-aged viewers but with a headful of gray hair so we can relate to him. Bill O’Reilly — the interviewer whose brand essence is most congruent with his viewers’ wants and needs — regularly beats up his mostly urban, mostly educated, and mostly affluent guests simply because his audience would like to but can’t. And on the other end of the spectrum, my friend Melissa Francis is so warm and gracious that she always makes her guests look smart and witty (as long as they’ve done their homework and are telling the truth).

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This didn’t strike me until I was in front of the camera more than 100 times. But the name interviewer should have clued me in immediately. The interviewer is the filter between the guest and the audience. The key words — inter and view — tell you so.

Onomatopoeia is the formation of a word from a sound associated with what the word names — sizzle, swoosh, and hiss are good examples. Advertisers have taken advantage of these mnemonic devices for years, probably most famously in the classic Alka-Seltzer jingle, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.” You don’t just hear the words; you actually hear the pills splashing and effervescing to make you feel better.

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But in the case of keynote and interviewer, we have something more: These words don’t sound like what they mean; they actually represent the meaning.

A little searching around onomatopoeia lead me to literal language. Wikipedia describes it as “words that do not deviate from their defined meaning,” which would explain both terms.

Literal language is not always so obvious. We regularly use the words aesthetic and anesthetic without noticing the relationship between the two. Aesthetic refers to the senses and anesthetic means to shut off or deaden the senses. Pretty clear once you see it, huh?

Of course, literal language is not always a good thing. How many investment brokers or real estate brokers would want to suggest that they make their clients broker? How many consultants would want to be known as sultan(t)s of cons? Perhaps it’s good that while we don’t see the explicit meanings hidden in some words, we also don’t see the negative implications that are just as obvious in others.

What’s more fascinating to me is that these meanings and implications are hidden in plain sight, adding richness and meaning to our conversations and helping to build our brands.

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