15April 2024

Public Speaking Tips for Synaesthesia

Synaesthesia is all about vocabulary and painting evocative word pictures.
Used deliberately, it is a simple and effective technique, though as with all techniques, it should not be overdone.
Synaesthesia is the technique of using vocabulary more associated with one of our senses to describe another:
smells could be conceived of as colours;
sounds are described as tastes or most typically,
sights as sounds and vice versa.

So for instance:
- a sickly yellow smell
- the sweet sound of children’s laughter
- a deafeningly loud colour or the bright sound of a bell.

Never forgetting that we are speakers and not poets, the fundamental principle always holds that our words should be intended as a way of embedding a concept, reinforcing a message or making a point. The word smith or poet may be happy simply to charm or delight; the speaker always had to have a point to make.
Therefore to describe someone as speaking in a ‘grey monotone’ would be done to create a vivid image to reinforce the uninspiring flatness of that speaker’s delivery (and ‘flatness’ is probably another example of synaesthesia, as we are more likely to associate it with shape or form rather than sound, unless we want to allude musically to a voice that sings flat and always sounds ‘under’ the right note.) 
These days we are used to seeing recorded sounds represented by charts and sound waves (a ‘visual’ representation of a 'sound’), but long before we had the electronic technology to do so, people would still unite sight and sound by talking of a ‘dull flat voice’.

Musicians will often experience sounds as colours.  The Russian composer Scriabin experimented with sound and colour in his performances and you cannot help but feel, looking at Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ that for him all the colours are humming a vibrating.

10 Tips for synaesthesia

1. Sight and Sound

Often this is barely experienced as synaesthesia at all, because many words are interchangeable between the two senses: for instance, tone of voice and tone of colour.
Even if the words are not interchangeable between the senses, we are very familiar with
‘bright sounds’, ‘colours that scream at you’, ‘silver laughter’ and ‘dark murmurings’.
In Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare tells us that
‘The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen’,
‘The Blues’ is a style of music, but you could still evocatively talk of blue sounds without specifically meaning the style of music.
And then if you want you can start to experiment:
his crimson tones
his bland beige answers
his dark brown excuses.

  1. Sound and Feel

We all understand what is meant by a rough, even gravelly voice.
The sound of current manager of Everton Football club, Sean Dyche’s voice has been described as what it would feel like to have sand in your underwear.
We can experiment with
his jagged lies
his smooth justification
his rasping appeal

  1. Temperature

Sight and sound can be related to temperature (temperature being a subset of ‘Feel’)
his cold stare
her warm words
her red-hot outfit
his cool good looks

  1. A sense of the abstract

The greatest mileage will be found in attributing one of our five senses to an abstract term.
One of the biggest challenges to a speaker is to create images that ‘stick’.
Particularly when the subject matter is abstract, theoretical or procedural, the tendency is to have a lot of words that do not automatically conjure up an image in the listener’s mind:
- honesty, talent, hope, friendship.
Therefore we could help the listener with a more vivid image:
a faint glimmer of hope
the embracing warmth of companionship
the cool flame of truth
a man of multi-coloured talents (?)
a blaze of victory – or even
a golden victory (this obviously also relies on a further association with the colour of a winner’s medal and can therefore be seen as an example of another rhetorical device – synecdoche – where a part of something is used to represent a greater whole (for instance where ‘putting bread on the table’  means food or subsistence in general or ‘having a roof over your head’ is somewhere to stay, ‘setting sail’ encompasses every task in preparing a boat to leave harbour). 
So a golden performance could be used to associate the performance with a bright vibrant colour or to imply that it was worthy of winning first place- or both!)
black despair
purple ambition (that one is a bit out there)
mumbling mediocrity (added alliteration in that one)
itching indecision
tickling doubt
the smug smell of self-satisfaction (lots of alliteration in that one!).

  1. Just experiment

Most of these will be bordering on the ridiculous and sound very contrived, but it is the same way as I can imagine comedians and writers like Rowan Atkinson or Armando Iannucci probably sit down with a piece of paper with the words ‘he is more stupid than…’ at the top of the page and then trying to come up with as many comparisons as possible – the more outlandish the better.
‘He is so dense he has his own gravity.’
Try mixing the more unlikely combinations of senses and see what you come up with ;
his words stank
I could taste the insincerity
he gave off an acrid smell of evasion.


6 Tweak a cliché

Rather than just trotting out the usual
‘Cool as a cucumber’, why not try to stretch or extend the association?
‘He withstood the incessant pressure like the coolest of cucumbers’
‘Actions speak louder than words’
‘He never needed words, his actions were already loud enough’
‘It takes two to tango’
‘with his stiff and solid square dancing and her purple passionate paso doble, they’ll never manage to tango together’

  1. Enhance emotional content

You don’t want to litter your speeches with clever idioms.
Firstly, it will become overwhelming and annoying to your audience;
in the end, you are there to make a point, not to show how clever you are.
Secondly, it will dilute the effect of the one or two key images you use to drive your message home.
A well-chosen synesthetic phrase will usually increase the emotional impact of the message and as you are surely aware, people are moved more by an emotional response than they are to a logical argument.
A child feeling ‘the numbing chill of rejection’ is more evocative than a child being ‘ignored’.

  1. Retain clarity

    We do not want to get too clever for our own good. Clarity is always a core skill in speaking.
    In every audience there is always a chance that an allusion, reference or analogy might not be understood, or even misunderstood. Does you phrase help emphasise and clarify or is it adding a layer of unnecessary complexity?
    (My developed example of the ‘it take two to tango’ saying above, was done to make a point.
    In reality it is probably too complex and is likely to lose an audience.)

  2. Openings and Endings

The two most dramatic sections of a speech are usually its opening and its ending.  Great speakers will often use a vivid image at the beginning of the speech to gather everyone’s attention and once they have laid out their point of view in the middle sections they might save their rhetorical fire-works for the end in an explosion of techniques to hammer their point home in a searing crimson climax of passion and conviction.
(lots of synaesthesia  there!)

  1. Never be afraid to kill your babies

A disturbing-sounding final tip!
It was a phrase I remember from a storytelling seminar and it is something I have experienced with many speakers, particularly when they feel they have come up with something very clever or very funny.
Yes, it may be clever or funny, but does it help lead the listener towards the key message of the speech or is it a diversion that might lead them away?
it might be the best line you have ever thought of, but does it support your message?
If not remove it.  You may be able to find a better home for it at a later date!


Play with it
Experiment with it
But don’t overdo it!

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Michael's superb training style is underpinned by an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. Like all true experts, he delivers what he knows with ease and simplicity, exampling the skills he is teaching as he does so.

Very informative and great anecdotes which illustrated points and provided visual markers.

The most interesting training that I have ever taken part in! Experience + Wisdom + Perfect teaching approach.

The training was spot on. He really listened to us and customised his responses throughout.

Loved the creation of visual examples through the use of body and how relating the experience really helps demonstrate the message.

Very approachable and motivational. So much information, brilliantly delivered.

Loads of great analogies and stories - very friendly and helpful.

Very approachable and knowledgeable and good use of examples to simplify the material.

In just one day Michael was able to teach a class of children how to craft their own personal stories and experiences into powerful and engaging speeches that resonate with an adult audience as well as with a younger audience. It is a marvellous way to help them increase self-confidence and in the process - almost without them even realising it - become natural speakers and excellent communicators.

Michael has a style of speaking which draws the audience into his world, captivates them and leaves them with lasting memories of some of the descriptive phrases he has used and the information he has included. He also has the ability to pass the skills he uses in his own speaking on to those he trains.

Very good rapport, attention to detail, individual support, positive atmosphere and encouragement - a great place for learning.

• Very great example; how to express yourself, how to be engaging and how to match body language with what is said.