Words Fail Me

Easily the most common technical mistake I am still apt to make while verbally communicating is to drive at a point, re-drive at the point in different words, and then ensure the death of the point with even more driving and rewording.

'Words + Words • Time' is a great recipe if you want to inspire boredom.

This 'Death of Words by Speaking' situation occurs for various reasons. We may like hearing our own voice and think we have a big bowl of important things to say. We may believe if we constantly fill the silence we will look confident and certain. And some of us think we are supposed to talk all the time when we have a listener.

Still, words lose meaning very fast when there are a lot of them. Some listeners can hang with us longer, but we all have listening limits, and the limits of listening to talk are short. Even the greatest actors in the world are ineffective at holding attention if the narrative is uninteresting.

Speaking needs constant variety to keep audience engagement, and therefore comprehension.

Variety can be achieved in many ways, from facilitated choices like orchestrating purposeful audience movement, topic-based partner or group sharing, or the use of visuals. Variety can also be heightened with presentational choices, including how we use our verbals.

Here are a few strategies that have worked for me in most situations:

  1. Prepare specific phrases for certain points. I tend to dislike scripted talks, but a few prepared phrases work well to nail a point and cue me to move on.
  2. Use periods. Many phrases are more effective when followed by a pause, resounding more loudly without a bunch of 'noise words' after them. 
  3. Allow acuity to affect delivery. It is damaging to sell people on a point when they are already sold, need a different dynamic to understand, or just need more time to consider what you are saying. Constantly see and hear your audience; are they with you or do you need to change your pattern?
  4. Appreciate that words are musical. Musical climaxes cease to be impactive when they have a bunch more music at the same volume after a peak - climaxes just become plateaus. Monitor your rhythms, paces, and volumes, and accept that every group has limits on how long they can listen to one person talk. 

Perhaps I've said too much already.