Word choice

By | March 19, 2017

Clearly, eloquence has many parts – content, structure, conviction, tone, pacing, empathy, and word choice. Ah, words. Let’s not forget the words.

Word inflation. Seems like we are bombarded with words constantly – most of them advertising or loose “pseudo-news”. The endless stream of facebook / linkedin “forwards” and “likes”.  So many words for such limited and often unfocused meaning. A lot of noise, not a lot of signal.

Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something. – Plato

Words matter. It’s a joy when I read something or have a hallway conversation with a colleague where something is incredibly well-said. It is usually loaded with a point-of-view and a sharp example or two. Yes, it’s words – but words with a purpose and conviction. It’s thought-provoking, earnest, interesting, and worth remarking to other people.

Speak clearly, if at all; carve every word before you let it fall – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Don’t be sloppy. I gave some recent feedback to someone, “You need to be more precise with your words. You can’t expect others to interpret what you’re are saying.” This might stem from the generally casual culture in business nowadays, but less formal should not be misinterpreted as imprecise. As a manager – I am perfectly happy with lax dress code, but not okay with lax thinking, or lax communication. Clients are paying $$$ for our best work. (Hat tip for typo correct, heh heh, KL)

A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives he habitually uses in conversation. – Mark Twain

Be direct. This is advice I got from a senior manager once (hat tip AN) to put my main point UP FRONT in the sentence, rather than waiting later. Same idea with executive presentations – don’t make the person wait for the punchline. Get your point out quickly – then spend the rest of the sentence / dialogue to illustrate, persuade, provide context, or gain agreement.

Say less. This is something I am working on. Can I cut down the number of words I use daily by 20%-40% and still get my point across?  Probably.

I have noticed that nothing I have said never did me harm. – Calvin Coolidge

Pause. Instead of filler words (um, ah, uh, “you know”, “so. . . . “, it’s just better to fill that time with nothing. Silence. Just pause and get some oxygen into your brain. Give yourself a chance to slow down, process, then speak.  100 thoughtful words are WAY better than 1,000 rambling ones.

Have conviction. Is it possible that we sometimes OVER-speak because we are not sure of ourselves and are hedging? We provide modifiers, considerations, context, nuances, examples, all in the effort to make it seem less wrong?  If you understanding something well, and simply, just say it.

Effective communication is 20% about what you know, and 80% about how you feel about what you know.  – Jim Rohn

Don’t be Alice. Too often we are like Alice in Wonderland – saying / talking / meaning something unclear. It’s easy to do, but it’s sloppy thinking.

“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.

“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.”

“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!”   – Lewis Carroll

Paint a picture. So much consulting-talk, business-talk, everyday-talk is boring. So much feature, and very little benefit.  What is in it for me? Let’s use our words to motivate, and get people going.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me a glint of light on a piece of broken glass.  – Anton Chekov

Time is precious. Respect other people’s time. Cut the presentation in half. Cancel the meeting that is not needed. Send out the report ahead of time, and simply ask for feedback by email. Put the data into a table instead of writing out a dense essay. Make the data easy to find, and easy to understand. Good word choice is persuasive and respects the other person’s time.

This report, by its very length, defends itself from the risk of being read. – Winston Churchill

Deliberate practice. None of us are perfect, and we each have different strengths / weaknesses. Practice. Have fun. Be open to feedback. Buy a digital voice recorder. This is the one I have here (affiliate link) I use it to record some of my presentations and see where I can cut out filler words, poor explanations, and ramp up the confidence and persuasion.

Hang out with smart people who speak well. Oddly, some of the people I know who have the best word choice speak English as a second language. Clearly, this is a unique skill – but it also shows that people who actually STUDY  a language grasp phrases and words differently. They may use words which are uncommon, and yet, more powerful that the commonplace, casual talky-talk.

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2 thoughts on “Word choice

  1. Charles

    So, um, in other words, I need to reduce the volume of wishy-washy, casual talky talk.

    Correction: They may use words which are uncommon, and yet, more powerful than the commonplace, casual talky-talk.

    1. consultantsmindadmin Post author

      Um. maybe, kinda, sort of, you-know, perhaps.


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