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  • Hi everyone.

  • Words don't come easy to me.

  • Immortal "Words",

  • that record was a hit in 1982,

  • F.R. David, Tunisian-born singer,

  • sold 8 million copies.

  • 8 million!

  • That's a lot of people who believe

  • words don't come easy to them.

  • And anyone who's ever stared at a blank sheet of paper,

  • wishing that it would fill with the words they need to communicate,

  • or who's tried to communicate a concept,

  • you've tried to reassure somebody

  • and ended up giving offense.

  • Words are not easy

  • But we human beings are linguistic animals.

  • Words are everything for us.

  • They define our reality:

  • a table, a microphone,

  • a speaker,

  • who we are,

  • what we do,

  • everything is defined in words.

  • Go back 500 years and say, "car".

  • "Car"?

  • But today, we have "saloon",

  • we have "four-by-four",

  • we have "coupe"

  • (Laughter)

  • Words evolve with us.

  • As our society evolves, so our language evolves.

  • As our language evolves, we evolve.

  • Words have innate power as well.

  • Now, people understood this, and for a long time

  • knowledge was only given from the mouth of the master to the ear of the student.

  • This is not an efficient way for humanity to transfer knowledge.

  • One tsunami, one earthquake, one plague, one famine,

  • and whole bodies of knowledge that have built up over centuries

  • vanish from the face of the earth

  • In fact, we're still trying to figure out a lot about ancient civilisations

  • because they didn't write anything down.

  • It would have been a lot easier if they left a handbook behind them.

  • We might actually know what the pyramids were for today.

  • Because we have written language,

  • because we can write things down,

  • we can communicate knowledge across our generations.

  • If I want to learn chess,

  • I can pick up a book written by a grand master a hundred years ago,

  • and learn how he played chess.

  • Encased in that volume is all his triumphs, his failures,

  • his successes, his moments of glory.

  • And it all comes to me in the time it takes me to read that book.

  • Book.

  • You all remember what a book is, right?

  • I know it's the Internet and Twitter and Facebook

  • but we all do still remember what a book looks like:

  • it's not a flat screen, it actually got paper in it.

  • If we want to communicate like that,

  • if we can communicate our knowledge through books,

  • we can become essentially immortal.

  • All of us can pick up the Epics of Homer.

  • Although he's now dust,

  • we can still see the world through his eyes as we read those epics.

  • We can have access to the flights of fantasy of Tolkien,

  • the tales of Shakespeare,

  • the spine-chilling stories of Bram Stoker,

  • they are all there for us to access whenever we choose.

  • The power of words communicates us that.

  • And that we can see how language evolves

  • by the language they have used and how we use it differently.

  • However, in today's digital society,

  • we seem to be devolving language

  • rather than evolving language.

  • We now use 3-letter acronyms for many things!

  • I've actually had people, in a conversation,

  • when I've said something,

  • tell me, "lol"

  • (Laughter)

  • You've what?

  • (Laughter)

  • lol?!

  • When I was young,

  • my mother chastised me terribly for lolling,

  • because it means to walk indolently.

  • A pennant lolls on upon a mast, when there is no breeze!

  • When I laugh out loud,

  • when I communicate that I'm laughing out loud,

  • there is this raucous effervescent laughter that bubbles out through me

  • and comes out and has the other person,

  • it pulls the mint to my mirth

  • and has them enjoy it with me.

  • lol?!

  • (Laughter)

  • How does that communicate it?

  • If you want people to understand what you're saying,

  • say what you mean!

  • And words give you that power.

  • James Flynn in the US in 2008

  • did a study:

  • preschoolers born into professional families

  • had a vocabulary of around 2,000 words;

  • those in middle class families, 1,200;

  • those in families on welfare, 600.

  • Your power over words is your power over your life

  • They define not just you and your reality,

  • but they can actually determine your social economic success

  • and status in life.

  • When I was editor of a business magazine,

  • I interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs.

  • Some of them could not sign a contract unless they put an X on the bottom.

  • Hugely successful people but they could not read and write.

  • And they would hide that inability under streams of profanity,

  • roughness, gruffness and the distancing from their staff

  • Why?

  • Because those who have mastery over words,

  • we see as successful.

  • We see them as intelligent

  • Why?

  • Because knowledge is transmitted through words, through writing.

  • So those who are repositories of it,

  • who are well read,

  • are seen as being intelligent and smart

  • and those who don't,

  • despite their financial successes

  • and material wealth,

  • are not.

  • It is a stigma they carry.

  • But there is a remedy:

  • you can learn to master words.

  • You read.

  • You remember what that was like, right?

  • When I was four,

  • I was a freak.

  • I was an absolute freak of nature.

  • I used to read the newspaper before I went to kindergarten.

  • My parents despaired.

  • Growing up on a council estate,

  • as somebody who reads the newspaper before they go to school

  • is not easy.

  • Especially when I was - believe it or not,

  • I was actually shorter than I am now -

  • I was lucky though,

  • because my father had a large number of books at home.

  • Not because he was into reading,

  • but they matched the furniture perfectly.

  • NHow I would pull down volumes off the shelf to read,

  • but I struggled

  • because it wasn't two lines before I hit a word I didn't know.

  • So I used to ask my parents,

  • "What does this word mean?

  • What does that word mean?

  • and didn't take many hours for them to get tired of that game.

  • So my father pulled down this big dusty dictionary off the shelf

  • and handed it to me and showed me how to use it.

  • And it was like he gave me the key to the city!

  • All this knowledge!

  • All this accumulated wisdom all over these shelves

  • was mine for the taking.

  • And I spent a huge amount of time digesting that stuff.

  • My mother would say, ''Go out and break things with your friends!"

  • (Laughter)

  • But no, I was locked up in the world of words.

  • Now words, like I said, have power.

  • You can have power over your lives.

  • by improving how you master words.

  • Master words, you master reality,

  • you master your destiny,

  • because everything we do is framed in words

  • and referenced in words.

  • When I was in the insurance world,

  • my job was to be the guy

  • who found that one sentence

  • in your extremely thick insurance policy

  • that said, "I'm sorry sir, we can't pay your claim."

  • I was not a popular person.

  • Well I was with the bosses

  • because I was particularly good at doing that.

  • But it wasn't what I wanted to do.

  • And one day,

  • I had clawed my way all the way up

  • to senior management in the corporate world,

  • and one day, my wife said to me

  • "There's a little pink line on this pregnancy test,

  • we're going to become parents."

  • Wow!

  • That was a hell of a day!

  • Because I had to change my life!

  • How could I follow,

  • how could I look my daughter in the eye

  • and tell her, "Follow your dream",

  • when I hadn't done it myself

  • because my dream was to be a writer.

  • That's why I had spent so much time locked in words

  • So I handed in my resignation

  • and decided I was going to follow my dream.

  • And that's what I did.

  • I took an assistant journalist position.

  • Not easy to do!

  • Top of the food chain, bottom of the food chain.

  • Big difference, new life

  • But I was following my dream!

  • And 3 years later,

  • I was editor in chief.

  • I managed writers,

  • I managed the design studio,

  • I had 15 publications that I was personally responsible for.

  • For most writers, that is as good as it gets!

  • You don't get much better than that.

  • Now my father told me I was nuts when I quit my corporate job,

  • and I kind of believed him.

  • When I was editor in chief,

  • reached the top of where I could get,

  • and I quit again,

  • my father thought I was completely loopy,

  • certifiable,

  • I think he was just about ready for an intervention!

  • But I did it because I found I had a dream within a dream!

  • Oooh, spooky!

  • That dream was to be my own boss.

  • So I opened my own communication company,

  • and a year later in business,

  • I was doing business across 4 continents.

  • For large companies, for small companies,

  • helping people master words for their communications,

  • for their corporate communications,

  • even for their essays

  • Just helping people.

  • I loved it!

  • It was fantastic!

  • I'd lived my dream!

  • And then, my father, on a summer holiday this year,

  • as we all sat around the pool,

  • he hugged me and he said, "Son, I'm proud!"

  • He could have said it 37 years ago,

  • but let's give him the benefit of the doubt

  • that he'd got there in the end.

  • Words have intense power.

  • Intense power!

  • Tell somebody you love

  • how much you love them.

  • And watch them fill up!

  • Tell somebody you no longer love them

  • and watch them twist in pain!

  • Be careful what you say,

  • words have huge power.

  • Words are a very very powerful thing!

  • If you tell yourself you're going to be successful

  • and you say it every single day,

  • you will believe it.

  • You will do it, you will achieve,

  • because you will overcome!

  • You've got to stop that little voice in your head

  • that says, "You cannot!"

  • Impossible is nothing.

  • You can do whatever you need to do.

  • You just need to master the voices and to hear the right words.

  • If you can do that, you can do anything.

  • Now, what I'd like you to do, just for a second,

  • to help you along this journey,

  • because it is a journey,

  • -- The Oxford English dictionary makes a guestimate,