Using just the right words

One of my mentors, David Brooks, speaks about economy of words, and using just the right words to get your message across. His message came home to me when I won the recent humour-hopabout contest. At one stage, I was speaking about Murphy’s law’s of cell phones. and in an early draft I said something like this:

Murphy’s first law of cell phones states that the probability of your phone battery being flat is directly proportional to the urgency of the call that you need to make.

While the point that I was making was funny, I was being convoluted in the way that I was saying it. As soon as the audience heard words like “probability”, and “directly proportional”, they were going to be reminded of high-school math class, and fall asleep. In the final version, I said something¬† like this:

Murphy’s first law of cell phones says that your battery is full if when you don’t need to make a call, but it is flat when you need to make an urgent call.

Short, simple and to the point. The audience can relate it it immediately, and have no trouble following it. It was a minor change to the message, getting exactly the same point across, but in a far more effective manner.

When you speak, consider what yout message it, how you are portraying it, and how effective you are getting it across.

By the way, you can watch my speech here.

Are you wasteful with words?

I heard an interview on the radio this morning in which the interviewee said

?It is obvious that our advertisement offended some people, however sales clearly went up?.

This got me thinking about how often we use superfluous and meaningless words in both our speaking and our writing.

  • It is obvious that?
  • You will see that?
  • You know?
  • And so on and so forth?
  • Each and every single one of you?

Then you can combine the superfluous words ? ?you can obviously see that?

The problem is that they very seldom add value to what you are saying, and they are not always true. In the above case, is it really that obvious? Then there are the obvious filler words ? umm, ahh?clearly you can see how little value they add. If you need space to think when speaking ? just pause and take a breath. It also gives the audience time to catch up.

We tend to use the same filler words in our speeches; they become crutches. This can become very distracting for the audience. To find out how good (or bad) you are, record your next presentation and listen to it afterwards. Even better, transcribe your speech, and you will very quickly become aware of what you are saying.

One of the words that I recently found myself using is ?stuff?. It is a not-descriptive word ? it does not portray any meaning. So now I ask myself the questions ?what stuff?, and I try to find a more meaningful word.

What are your crutch words?