Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The 5 weakest speaker statements

Eloquence can be defined as a persuasive mix of apt, fluent and forceful words that engage and inspire your audience.  So when speakers fritter away the force of their words and opt for weak constructions and references, you'll find me wincing in the back of the room.  If you want to shore up your signal and make sure it's getting through to your audience, catch yourself when you use these five weak speaker statements, and replace them with something stronger, more precise and more effective:
  1. "As we all know..." and its variants, "Everyone knows," "Everyone should know," and "We all enjoyed...":  These sweeping, absolute statements may stem from a desire to make the audience feel included or to create a sense of community.  Instead, they more often make the speaker sound arrogant or just plain inaccurate.  The moment you start telling the audience what it knows, feels or does, individuals who don't fit that mold will start to squirm, object or just tune out.
  2. Using yourself as the only data point to prove your assumptions:  It's human nature to turn to your own experience to explain or illustrate a point, but as any good researcher will tell you, a study where the number of subjects observed = 1 is not valid.  While this may seem to be the opposite of the grandiose statements in number 1 above, you'll often hear this used to prove an absolute, as in, "Everyone had a great time at the annual meeting. I know, because I really enjoyed..."  Make sure you use personal references and stories to illustrate a point, not to prove it, and speak for yourself.
  3. "I know [insert a boundary/rule/time limit/announced topic here], but I'm going to [do the opposite/go overtime/talk about something else]":  Speakers do "have the floor" and the mic and the attention.  Announcing and acknowledging that you are about to abuse that power immediately tells the audience you are not thinking about them--and doesn't give you a pass or permission. Instead, you've just signaled that those who were expecting an on-time, on-topic presentation can tune out, if they wish.  This is much less amusing an approach than it may seem to many speakers.
  4. Any sentence loaded with acronyms:  Even an audience familiar with your shorthand might want to hear the actual words behind the acronym. What's more, acronyms rob you of the chance to use language to persuade and move your audience. It's nearly impossible to make a call to action with acronyms--at least, not one that will have people leaping to their feet, ready to take part.  In some sense, the assumption that everyone knows what you mean is another version of saying "Everyone knows..."
  5. Time-wasters at the start:  "I was going to talk about this, but...." or "I can't tell you how pleased I am to be here today" or "As I was walking across your lovely campus this morning" might be buying you time or sound to you like a heartfelt insight, but these statements are what's commonly referred to as "throat-clearing"--the empty nonsense or obvious statements most speakers use to back into their actual remarks.  In reality, you're wasting those golden moments when the audience's attention is strongest.  Why not plunge right into your talk?
Related posts:  The 6 strongest speaker statements

Attention! Why speakers need a strong, fast start

Andrew Dlugan's very good Six Minutes blog on public speaking included this post in his roundup of the best public speaking blog posts for the week of June 12, 2010.

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