Familiarity breeds affection

Robert Zajonc [ZYE-unts] was an American social scientist who explored the interplay between feeling and thought–between emotion and cognition.

He was interested in determining which influenced the other more strongly. On balance, he came down on the side of emotion.

He was best known for establishing what he called “the mere exposure” effect. In this experiment, he showed subjects a series of random shapes in rapid succession–so rapid that they could not possibly tell if any were repeated.

When subjects were later asked which shapes they found most pleasing, they reliably chose the ones to which they had been exposed the most often, though they had no conscious awareness of the fact.

Familiarity, in other words, breeds a kind of affection, an established truth that has, ever since, encouraged advertisers to expose audiences to their messages multiple times.

Speakers can do the same.

Find a phrase, an image, or a single word to weave throughout your talk.

“I have a dream,” is such a phrase. “Of the people, by the people, for the people,” is another example. And the current American President, Mr. Obama, repeated the word responsibility during the banking crisis–perhaps to defuse the charge that he’s bailing out reckless economic institutions and irresponsible people.

A president must make his or her words do the work that needs to be done. To make them familiar, he needs to use them often.

You should do the same. Choose words and phrases you want your audience to remember with affection.

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