Writers—and speakers, too—are always looking for ways to make their message “stick.” Here are a few you’ll be able to apply to your own communications, especially those that you want to remain in your audience’s mind long after you have have finished conveying your written or spoken message.

#1 The Verbal Twist

A single sentence can capture the mind and sometimes the heart of those whom you wish to influence. Amid the hundreds of words you will use in your influence effort should be one group that the listener or reader can take away. With the verbal twist, you can create sentences that continue to influence long after you have used them. This sort of sentence uses the content in the first half and twists it around to create an equally meaningful thought in the second half. Some examples follow:

Jesse Jackson: “I was born in the slums but the slums were not born in me.”

John D. Rockefeller, Sr.: “A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship.”

LeRoy Satchel Paige: “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”

Henry S. Commanger: “Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change.”

Anonymous: “If you lead through fear you will have little to respect, but if you lead through respect you will have little to fear.”

#2 The Unexpected Outcome

One way to make your listening or reading audience sit up and take notice is to stop before the expected outcome and pronounce an unexpected outcome. Quickly, they will move from complacency to contemplation or some other mental mode. To illustrate, when a period is placed after the word “fancy” to stop the sentence from veering into the familiar, you are forced to contemplate the meaning of the words in a new way: “In spring, a young man’s fancy.” (Unspoken is the reason for such attention to attire, namely, the hope of attracting young women.) Similarly, the observ-ation that a book in the hand is worth a hundred on the shelf surprises us with its fresh variation on a familiar theme. Here are other examples.

Anthony Burgess: “Laugh and the world laughs with you; snore and you sleep alone.”

Mark Twain: “If you have to swallow a frog, don’t stare at it too long.”

Anonymous: “Every great acorn was once a nut that stood its ground.”

#3 The Juxtaposed Opposite

To enter the rarefied stratum of super-influencers, you have to give careful and extensive thought to the way you express your thoughts. If you wish potential influencees to remember your words, to tell you later they’ll never forget what you said about one issue or another, you have to choose your expressions carefully. One way to achieve memorability is to place opposites together in the same sentence. Here are examples for you to study.

Arab proverb: “You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept.”

John F. Kennedy: “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Anonymous: “It’s easy to know all the answers if you don’t bother to listen to the questions.”

Japanese Proverb: “To live long, keep a cool head and warm feet.”

Earl Wilson: “Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure.”

Tombstone in Celano, Italy: “As you are, I once was. As I am, you will be.”

#4 The Repeated Phrase

The ancient Romans may have been the first to know the power of the repeated phrase: “I came, I saw, I con-quered.” Numerous other influencers over the ages have depended on this device to make their message a memorable one.

Mario Cuomo: “By creating the largest defense budget in history…. By escalating to a frenzy the nuclear arms race. By incendiary rhetoric.”

Abraham Lincoln: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Marchant: “To be a success in business be daring, be first, be different.”

Judy Columbus: “Leadership means being called aggressive and saying ‘thank you.’ It means not always being liked. It means being a risk-taker.”

Peter Drucker: “In industry, in government and in medicine, research is the search for new utility.”

Kitty Carlisle Hart: “The arts soften the city’s hard edges, the arts appeal to what is best in our character. The arts, frankly, make us want to live here.”

Chinese Proverb: “Great minds discuss ideas; normal minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

Jesse Jackson: “I have marched with him. I have debated with him. I have argued with him. I have disagreed with him. I have learned from him.”

If the Heath brothers are right about “stickiness”—namely, that we have to find gaps in our readers’ and listeners’ knowledge and then fill those gaps—then we can learn from examples and exemplars about the best ways to make our words memorable.


  • Dr. Marlene Caroselli is the author of 60+ books, the most recent of which ("Applying Mr. Einstein") will be released by HRD Press in 2020. You can reach her at [email protected].