Thursday, February 16, 2012

5 ways speakers can steer clear of overstatements

Are all your programs major? All your research extensive? All your senior officials probing and sought-after? Does "everyone know" about your issue? Those are overstatements. Now, get over it--by making sure you edit overstatements out of your speech or presentation, or stop yourself mid-delivery, if need be. As a listener, I'm more likely to find you credible as a speaker if overstatements don't pepper your talk. Here are 5 ways to steer clear of them:
  • Monitor those adjectives and adverbs:  Overstatements ride the coattails of adjectives and adverbs.  If the conference is especially exciting, the speakers notable and widely recognized and even the auditorium seats are the most comfortable you can imagine, I'll be looking for unicorns in the lobby of your next meeting. Don't let your desire to create a positive atmosphere make you unbelievable.
  • Get a sense of what you're reaching for:  When you're announcing something new or describing something you've worked hard on, there's a yen to make everything a breakthrough, a major advance or a significant step. If you're feeling some pressure--internal or external--to make something sound better, stop and figure out why, and whether that makes sense. Overreaching with your descriptions might make you sound defensive, unrealistic or just a braggart.
  • Find another word:  See if some variety--either in new terms or a rewritten sentence structure--can help you dig out of the overstatement ditch you're about to fall into.  A good rule of thumb: Don't reuse accolades.  Once you've described one program as "ground-breaking," that's it.
  • Temper, temper:  Could, may and might are useful tools to keep you from the verb forms that lead to self-destructive overstatement.  Referring to a new study that could prove useful hedges your bets better than one that claims to have completely solved the problem. It's one of the true good uses for a passive verb form.
  • Says who?  Ask yourself that question after every claim in your sentence. What would your staunchest critics say about your overstatement?  A neutral source?  If you can't prove it, don't use it.  And if someone can disprove it, time for a rewrite. 
(Editor's note: I've adapted this post from the don't get caught blog, where it first appeared, to make it applicable to speakers.)

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