Need Power in Your Speech? Emulate Your Teenager

February 26, 2008

Teenagers are adept at punctuating their conversations with nonverbal signals.  This habit is especially annoying to parents, but it can also be instructive for your next business presentation.

 A classic example involves a teenager at dinner.  The parent asks, “What happened at school today day?”  The teenager shrugs and grunts, “Nothing.”  That one shrug suggests plethora of meaning.  It suggests apathy, lack of engagement, distrust of the parent, a drawing into self….  A shrug suggests.

Comedians are adept at suggestive gestures, but so are professional speakers.  Add suggestive gestures to your presentation in the way you might add spices to your soup.  Experiment with a shrug, followed by a pause in your next presentation.  Try lifting your eyebrows or scratching your head to suggest meaning.  Tilt your head quizzically for effect. Have some fun!

The key to using suggestive gestures is to do what you’d do naturally in a conversation, just a bit exaggerated so the audience can catch it.  Rehearse to figure out just what “naturally” means to you.  You already have effective gestures.  Use them purposefully to add power to your presentation.


Power in Your Presentation: Cut Your Word Count

February 20, 2008

Copywriters know there is power in brevity.  For example, Coke–it’s the real thing!  These are  five memorable words that have carried the brand a long way.  Verizon’s, it’s the network, is even less.

As a speech coach, one my biggest challenges is to encourage people to cut words, especially when telling a story.  When preparing a story for one of my own speeches, I write the entire story out.  Then I begin to cut away chunks of information the listener doesn’t absolutely need.  Then I go back and look at the words I’ve chosen.  I try to make every word alive and descriptive.  In the end, a three-minute story often turns out to be more powerful as a six-minute story.  A professional communicator, I’m in the business of cutting works to gain power.

Even so, I was caught short by the power of an exercise on the Smith Magazine website.  See  The idea is to write your life story in six words.  Here’s one person’s example:  Cursed by cancer; blessed by friends.  How powerful is that?!  Make a visit to this website.  You can submit your own six-word story and check out the collection from famous and not so famous people.  This is an exercise in eloquence worth pursuing.  Send me your examples!

 PS:  I first learned about the six word stories at:

Need Concise Business Writing? Consult Your Suitcase

February 5, 2008

“How can I write concisely?”  This is one of the top questions people ask me about business letters and business writing.  In one of my recent business writing workshops, a participant shared an analogy that provides a good answer.

Lee Casher told us about a rule her daughter learned when packing for a trip overseas.  Lee’s daughter was traveling with a group to Israel, where she would have to carry her own luggage. In the instructions for packing, group members were told the following, “Pack your suitcase with the things you think you will need.  Then unpack the suitcase and remove 1/3 of the items from the suitcase.  At that point, you’ll have just the right amount.  People always pack more than they need.”

This rule holds true for business writing.  When we first put down our thoughts, we use extra words and even extra sentences—because we are still formulating what we want to say.  If we go back and review what we’ve written from the reader’s perspective, we can easily remove 1/3 of what we’ve written, making the writing more concise and more focused. 

Believe it or not, I’ve tested this rule over a long period of time, with many writers.  Years ago, I read a book called Revising Prose by Richard Lanham.  Lanham maintains that almost all writing has a 30% “lard factor” that he can easily revise out.  This seemed like a challenge to me, so I gave it a try.  I found I can routinely reduce my own word count by 30%.  I can often cut an even higher percentage in other people’s writing.

The suitcase rule works.  One nice feature is that this process allows you to “dump” your thoughts or make a quick and sloppy first draft of a business letter or e-mail.  Professional writers know it’s more efficient to write a quick first draft and then revise it than to try to write concisely the first time, before you are even sure exactly what you want to say.

Try the suitcase rule with your next e-mail or letter—pack, unpack, and discard one third.  It really works!