If you’re like most of us, you probably want to be a better speaker. Even if you haven’t thought about it much or the occasion to stand up in front of a group of people doesn’t come along often, you would probably say “yes,” if someone asked if you wanted to improve your speaking skills.
Last week’s post featured the ideas of speaking guru Anett Grant, and this post does too. Even those of us who feel pretty comfortable about public speaking can probably use help—because we may not be quite as good as we think we are.
Herewith are four tips from a 2016 Fast Company article by Ms. Grant, whose subtitle is “Yes, your words matter—just not as much as you think.”
Understand what your audience is listening to
“Cognitively speaking, people don’t listen at the word level.” Interesting, eh? Turns out, we all listen at the thought level. And at the level of our own individual thoughts.
As Ms. Grant notes, different words mean different things to different people. We filter communications through our own biases. This means that your ideas and the way you present them may matter more than your words. I can’t disagree with this, but as a writer, I still think it’s important to pay attention to the words you choose. Ms. Grant also comments on memory bias, which influences the degree to which people remember what you intended to say.
Be aware of your rhythm
If you’re focusing on your words, you’re likely to affect your rhythm. That is, instead of taking natural pauses, you’re trying to find the “right” word, which “creates a staccato delivery–your rhythm is fragmented, erratic.” Worse still, you sound hesitant and doubtful.
It’s better, according to Ms. Grant, to use the first word that comes to mind and then elaborate on what you mean. That will help you maintain a smooth delivery. Ms. Grant doesn’t say this, but I think it might be o.k. to tell your audience that you’re searching for the right word but may not land on it.
Watch the big words
As a younger person, I gloried in my big vocabulary. Alas, far from impressing people, it caused them to believe that I was hopelessly pretentious. In a recent post about authenticity, I quoted Mark Twain on the virtue of using simple language. As Ms. Grant says, “Remember, your goal is to make your audience understand the power of your ideas, not be dazzled by the precision of your vocabulary.”
Watch your meaning
Growing up in bilingual Montreal, Ms. Grant was mindful of the need to translate meaning rather than exact words. Here, in Silicon Valley with its richly varied community, we need to think along the same lines. A multicultural audience may not get the care with which you’ve chosen your words, but it will appreciate clarity of meaning. In fact, even within the same culture, you should pay attention to differences in meaning of the same word.
In a way, I find it reassuring that words are perhaps not as important as we may think they are. In my view, words are part of an integrated package of rhythm and meaning that we would all do well to master. Even if we’re “only” talking to loved ones, neighbors, friends, and colleagues with whom we interact randomly.