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Speaking Effectively Requires Precision

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When scientists buy instruments, or car nuts purchase automobiles, or audiophiles tweak their home stereo systems, they are interested in precision. That’s also one of the characteristics of great public speakers.

It’s worth taking a look at the definition of the word precision (which by the way, is a good example of being precise in action):

precision – marked by exactness and accuracy of expression or detail.

Recently, I listened to a presentation targeted at salespeople. The topic was “referrals”—which the speaker insisted are a key element of success for anyone in that profession. There were probably thirty people in the room, and all of us nodded as he indicated the importance of seeking referrals and passing them along appropriately.

Business Speaker Audience

© Flickr user decoded_conference

Unfortunately, the idea is anything but simple. A “referral” is an interaction between three different people. The first individual advises the second individual to make use of the services offered by the third. If you’re giving a speech about an idea captured in a single word, your audience will benefit if you explain what that word means. They are more likely to remember your presentation if you break down the parts of the definition into smaller words.

In the case of business referrals, one way might be as follows:

  • Referrer – The person making the suggestion.
  • Customer – The person who could receive the service.
  • Referral – The person who has been recommended.

If the speaker had used these or similar phrases, they would have had a much greater impact.

Leica Camera - Instrument of Precision

© Flickr user benmizen

Here are some tips for being a precise, professional speaker:

Give a Definition

The easiest way to tell people what you mean is to tell them what others think by quoting a dictionary or a notable person. Audiences love this because it’s a familiar part of the learning experience. We’re used to reading books or listening to experts talk about complicated topics by defining key ideas.

This doesn’t need to be formal. The author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar is credited with saying that “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.” This is a folksy way of explaining something that may be difficult to put into practice by connecting it with something everyone knows.

Use Words Consistently

In the presentation I heard a while back, the speaker would use the word “referral” in a variety of ways. It might be the entire process, one of the people within the experience, or just one step. But if you’re going to introduce a new concept, make sure you always use the words exactly right.

Similarly, I recall a physics professor once making the distinction between mass and weight. Mass is how much stuff there actually is, but weight is how much there seems to be due to the gravity of the earth. It’s easy to remember these two because that teacher was absolutely consistent when using each term.

Mention Anti-Examples

Illustrations that support your point are a great way to be precise. But what can be even more effective is to show where the line ends by offering up some “anti-examples.” These are cases that someone might think apply, but just barely miss the mark.

In a talk about recycling, the speaker explained that knowing what you can’t recycle is about knowing the process. Used paper and used cardboard are okay, but used pizza boxes and wet paper should just be trashed. That’s because the oils and moisture mess with the fibers and can gum up the recycling machinery.

Presentation

© Flickr user joeflintham

If you’re giving a speech, be precise. Your audience will appreciate you more. They will remember what you said. And best of all, they can share it with others.

To do this: remember to give a definition so that those listening can carry it with them. Be perfectly consistent when you use words to avoid confusion. And in addition to giving people examples, toss out a few scenarios that are close, but not quite there.

That way, people will understood what you said. When they pass on the word to people who didn’t hear you, they might understand too.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
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