Monday, October 08, 2007

Public Speaking: Clearing the Mud


The Speech: Clearing the Mud


Jakarta – Now that you have finished your speech’s draft, it is time to tighten it up. You do this by going through your writing and weeding out the clutter.

During this phase, it is helpful for you to keep in mind that your primary goal is simply to communicate your message. Show no mercy when it comes to editing your speech; it is dangerous to fall in love with your own language skills.

The following points will help you while you edit.

Adjectives deaden. “Show, don’t tell,” is the old axiom. Adjectives, words such as pretty, good, best, important, do not tell the listeners much about your subject. They just tell the audience how you feel about the subject.

Have you ever asked your kid how school was and all you receive in return is a reply of “good?” Of course you have. All parents have. Why is this common answer so frustrating? Because, what we want to learn are the hows and whys of our children’s days, not just that they are good or bad or awright. Your audience is no different. An over-reliance on adjectives keeps your listeners from going on the thinking journey with you.

Awaken the senses. Can you see, taste, feel what you are trying to say? If you cannot, neither can your listeners. The noun happiness is just a word, an abstraction, an idea. It is no stronger than an adjective. A warm puppy, coffee served in bed, a phone call from an old friend, those are all concrete ingredients that make up the experience of happiness. By replacing telling words, adjectives and abstractions, with concrete details, that is showing words, your listeners experience your speech.

Public groping is distasteful. When you have got something to say, say it! Do not stand in front of all, reaching for meaning as you try to clarify your position. Phrases such as, “What I’d like to say…” and “What I’m trying to get across today is….” only tell the audience that you do not understand your own message. By having chosen a subject and focus that you believe in, you can avoid these trust-killing phrases and stick with the concrete details audiences thrive in.

Confidence. Before your listeners can believe in you, you must believe in yourself. Saying, “I feel that…” or “In my opinion it’s clear that …” weakens both you and your message. If you do not feel it, do not say it. Your audience understands that what you say is what you believe.

If you need to share someone else’s thoughts, attribute them to that person so that your own message maintains its integrity.

Which sentence is the strongest from the following four examples?

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are an underrated band.

I believe that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are an underrated band.

You need to understand that The Red Hot Chili Peppers are an underrated band.

He feels The Red Hot Chili Peppers are an underrated band.

The first sentence is the most powerful since it is stated as a fact. There is no belief, no feeling, no wiggle room involved in the declaration. When speaking this is the most effective format to follow.

Stop on and ons. Many of my students love to use etc… This is wrong. When you want to give a list, give the list. Then stop that list concisely with your final item. Your listeners do not need to hear “etcetera” or “and so on.” Keep your message clear, by just sticking to your message.

Repeat by repeating. During your introduction and your closing you will wish to restate your thesis. Also, throughout your speech you will need to reinforce your speech’s main ideas and theme. However, it is important for you to do so without muddying your words with things like “Let me reiterate now…” and “Once again, I need to stress…” When you need to restate, do it. Do not ask for permission, do not explain. If your message is clear and strong, your listeners will be smart enough to follow.

In the next OnWords, our final installment in the public speaking series, we will go over rehearsal techniques and tips for the actual presentation.

Until then,

Happy editing,


This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post.

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