We at ECG like hearing from you about our Speak Previews articles, both for the questions you raise and the concerns you bring forward. While we answer every phone call and respond to every email, at times we also like to share your feedback and experiences with our entire readership. So that's what we'll do here.
Did you notice that "so" in the last sentence? In 2009 we published "You Know, Fillers," an article that discusses the proliferation of fillers in speech and ways to reduce your use of them. One of our readers subsequently asked about "so" as a filler, to which we responded that in some contexts "so" is a simple connective indicating a causal relationship between two ideas. But in other contexts it amounts to a springboard kind of filler that hints at a summary, bottom line, or transition to a new topic. In those contexts, it's often a verbal idler, and when used repeatedly becomes vocal clutter that irritates listeners and muddles messages.
Then we ran across an interesting treatment of "so" in The New York Times. It looks at the word from a social and cultural perspective as well as a communication one. It notes that "so" is on its way to becoming the most popular of all fillers, and, as we noted earlier, the results are not pretty.
Some of our readers sent us links to the article; we appreciate that responsiveness and welcome more of it.
Other responses concerned "Facing Up to the Message," an article that stresses the importance of aligning facial expressions with messages. One reader recalled an especially unfortunate misalignment. As a televised news segment opened, he said, a newscaster faced the camera with a bright, sunny smile but then began to intone a litany of very bad news—pedestrians injured, residents displaced by fire, layoffs at a local plant. It seemed ludicrous to him, almost comical, and though he was sure the newscaster did not mean to create such an effect, he was nevertheless disturbed by it.
An audience notices such incongruities—not always consciously but at some level that distracts their attention or produces misinterpretation. Our recommendation is to increase your awareness of your own facial expressions and to practice those that align with and emphasize each message you deliver.
In "Slides, Basically" we suggested that using no more than one slide for every couple of minutes of a presentation helps ensure that your message is supplemented by slides rather than replaced by them. But we are not suggesting that you show one slide every minute or two or that a presentation of a certain length requires a set number of slides. One reader told us that at times she may show several slides per minute, such as when she is narrating a photo documentary. Her experience illustrates the need to use slides in a manner that strengthens a presentation.
Another reader mentioned that he may sometimes speak for several minutes while showing a single slide in order to provide explanation or insight. There's nothing wrong with that, we assured him, as long as he's providing relevant information and not reading a text-heavy slide aloud. Text-heavy slides are seldom effective; audience members can read silently faster than a presenter can speak. They get impatient as they wait for the speaker to finish reading and are often annoyed that the speaker is reading at all. The Speak Previews® article "Think Outside the Bullet" offers ideas for designing slides that emphasize messages and engage your audience.
We're happy to have engaged you, by the way. Engagement leads to communication, as your replies to us demonstrate so well, so very well. And that's no filler.