The power of sensory rich communication 

Have you ever wondered how you can capture the attention of an audience with your language when you are giving a speech? Every single individual in the audience is unique and have their own style of thinking and understanding; so, how do you manage to cater to the preferences of everyone? How do you enthrall the audience with a memorable experience?

With these questions in mind, it might appear a herculean task to accomplish. But holding the audience’s attention with the artful use of language is indeed simpler than it seems. It is so because of the simple fact that the audience processes your speech and comprehends through the senses, a universal for all human beings. 

We all use our five senses to make sense of the world: sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. And using sensory words you can paint someone a lucid picture, tell a compelling story or evoke strong feelings to have them riveted to your speech.

Sensory words in language serve as a trigger to evoke memories or feelings that draw the audience into your world. And you can use sensory words to guide their imagination in wonderful ways as well. Using sensory words helps the audience understand and connect to the theme or anecdotes in your speech. Its one thing to say that you raced home by car in record time and another to say that you whizzed past the green meadows by car as you listened to the engine roaring, feeling the wind through your hair and you reached home in record time. The same principle can be used by writers to hold the attention of the reader.

Sensory words can pertain to any of the five senses. Words like colorful, radiant, bright, hazy, shiny, vivid, lanky elicit a visual experience. Auditory sensory words describe what’s heard. For example, loud, cacophony, beat, thud, mumble, and howl. Kinesthetic (pertaining to touch) words include rough, smooth, hard, weighty, warm, etc. Fragrant, pungent and stink are examples of words related to the sense of smell (olfactory) while Gustatory words (pertaining to taste) include sour, sweet, bitter, tasty and delicious. 

Sensory words can be used in the form of adjectives as in towering, imposing, steep, majestic or snow-capped while describing a mountain. Each word characterizes the mountain in a manner which is easy to visualize for the audience. Examples of sensory words in the form of adverbs include hastily, elegantly and abruptly each of which distinguishes the manner in which one ends a speech. In the verb format, the word itself can describe a different sense of action. For example, a person can walk, run, hop, or drag himself up a hill.

In this way, you can enrich the quality of your communication by the use of sensory language. It’s also important to remember to use sensory language judiciously. Adding too much of a descriptive might lead to a very long speech, confusion or the audience missing the message. Use sensory language appropriately and constantly utilize the verbal and non-verbal feedback you get from your audience.

As an exercise in actively improving your skill in using sensory language you can list down more sensory words pertaining to the different senses and different forms. You can also make it an exercise to identify and classify the sensory words as you listen to someone speak.


- Abhishek Thalanki

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