With political correctness at an all time high here in North America, communication can be challenging. People are offended way too easily, so everyone is becoming nervous speakers and they find it difficult to be real. Clarity is important to speak confidently. Clarity stands for “the truth” and is a raw, unmolested message. The fat has been trimmed and the message is inborn with certainty. People value clarity at the podium, in boardrooms, attracting the opposite sex, family interactions, in classrooms, on websites, and virtually everywhere.
We largely appreciate, rather than condemn, clear, well-spoken speakers and writers. We honour them for their courage, think of them as intelligent for their clarity and respect them for their raw honesty. They are also a target for criticism. Consider the audience… a little bit. Let’s understand what good and bad messages are like, both written and oral. Speak like a pro. Write like a pro.
Watered Down Message
A fast way to lose an audience’s attention and resect is with too much fluff and unnecessary words. It takes away from the important parts- the parts that need the most attention! An example of watering down a message is when making a complaint to customer service. The complainer beats around the bush about the problem, or sandwiches the raw and real complaint amongst apologetic and way too many softening statements.
The most potent and direct lesson on brevity and getting a message across is depicted in the movie Moneyball. An apropos lesson on how Billy Bean fires people-
Um’s, Ahh’s, You know, Like, I Mean
These filler words have no place in this world. It’s awful to hear. Every radio host out there could use a lesson or two about this. I’m surprised no one says anything to them- they’re professional speakers after all. I digress… Check out the following sentence examples and notice that there is nothing lost if we omit those waste words.
Um and Ah
Take a look at “um” and “ah” first. What is the true necessity of those words? To hold the listener’s attention, that’s what. Deep down the speaker feels they will lose their listener if they stop making a sound. Someone who can speak confidently takes pauses, and instead, intrigues the listener more.
“When was the last time you did laundry?” “
Um, I don’t remember.”
um 8, possibly 9 planets in the ahh solar system.”
“You know” is also a weak phrase. Aside from it being an utterance filling the void it’s a question and it’s asking whether the listener is listening or if they even care. The speaker doesn’t trust that the listener is following along. People perceive questions in general or the inflection at the end of a sentence as an inferior action. Try it now: Ask a question out loud and right near the end of the sentence, raise the inflection of your tone. Now do this with everything you say and hear how weak it sounds. Try the opposite: state a question while keeping your tone the same. Even let it drop near the end of the question and listen to what that sounds like. Cool, huh? That’s more like what it is to speak confidently.
“You know, I had a great time the other day.”
“This problem over here is really affecting us,
you know? We won’t stand for it much longer.”
The misuse of “like” has such deep roots that it will probably never die. The young and the old say it. The temptation to use it is incredibly strong… but it means nothing. It’s merely a sophisticated grunt, but for many, it sounds trendy to use it. As a 30 year old student in University, I couldn’t stand when my 20-something year old classmates would answer a prof’s question. It was so common and they sounded like (proper use) uncertain, timid little children. It was hard to respect them.
“Mr. Lister, can we
, like, do our project on whatever we want?” “Like we had a great time at the dinner party. The chef was , like, so on point.”
I notice “I mean” more in peoples’ phraseology these days. This could be wrong, but it sounds like people have just found a more intelligent way to say um and ah, thus sounding less like a caveman grunting. Either way, it’s a waste of words and it’s trying way too hard.
I mean, he hasn’t always been that way.”
The teenagers these days have so much growing up to do.
I mean, even teachers are having a hard time.”
The Power of Silence
I was in a band with my cousin years back and my uncle, who had 40 years experience playing in bands, came out to listen to us rehearse. He stopped us and pointed out that we were trying to fill every moment with sound. He said, in his quiet demeanour,”guys, you don’t always have to be making a sound. The power is in the silence between the notes.” He was exactly right. When there is silence in a song- a pause, the anticipation is incredible. The silence is often louder than the music!
Listen to it all (for best effect) or skip to about 2:20 and let it play to the end-
If nothing else, taking pauses obviously gives the listener a chance to follow what the speaker is saying. Further, the speaker may be a fast talker and they are hard to understand.
Speak to Be Heard
Quiet and soft spoken is often just that- quiet. However, both loud and soft ways can work if executed properly. To speak confidently, loud and clear establishes a much needed authority. On the other hand, speaking softly with a serious depth of confidence can be equally powerful. People will lean in and strain to hear what is being said because they don’t want to miss it. There’s an element of curiosity present. Most importantly of all, great communicators own what they say and stand by it. Having said that, if you can’t stand by it, don’t say it.
Make Your Message Clear and Speak Confidently
Kill the filler words and phrases. They make the speaker/writer sound uneducated and weak. Use your big boy voice to earn respect or authority. Say what you need to say and own it- speak confidently. It’s good to know that with a little awareness and practice, the bad habits can be eliminated. It all starts with thinking before you speak… and while you speak.
- Honestly think before you speak. Take your time, the filler words will die over time.
- Embrace the pauses. Try to be silent until the next clear thought comes to your head.
- Keep tonality even or enthusiastic, but never make everything you say sound like a question.
- Speak loud enough and take ownership of it. Stand by your words if they are worthy.
Read more: Just Do It! Learn to Beat Fear For Real