As an election year rolls on in the USA, some readers have asked about speaking practices they've noticed as candidates, elected officials, and commentators announce, debate, and declare. One of those questions concerns the dangers of enumerating—of saying, for example, that one intends to eliminate three federal departments but then mentions only two.
Enumerating can present problems. A speaker can forget what he's promised or be interrupted before he's finished, leaving the audience confused or disdainful. It also implies a hierarchy or sequence that can mislead listeners by providing a context the speaker had not intended. It spends words without gaining substance, much like the Tell 'em" pattern of organization.
A more strategic approach is to make a point in the first sentence and then add examples: "I will eliminate federal departments that no longer serve a purpose. Among them is the Department of Tomfoolery, a department that…" Continue to the next: "Another is…" By using this method, neither you nor your audience is likely to be stranded; both will be operating within the same context.
Or avoid enumeration by substituting a descriptive word such as "number," "variety," or "array." Beginning with a sentence such as "A number of principles are at stake here" will circumvent the enumeration problem while alerting your listeners that several instances will follow.
In response to our article about how speakers may create uncertainty when they use phrases such as "I believe," a reader asked whether such phrases are acceptable during job or project interviews. Because an applicant does not want to appear overconfident, he noted, one might say "I believe I'm a good fit for this position."
Introducing a statement of ability with "I believe" dilutes the message that the applicant is well qualified. Rather than beginning so tentatively, the aspirant could instead say, "I am well qualified for the position and would be a good fit." That assertion comes across as emphatic and strong, especially if it's said in a moderate tone and followed with supporting experience and credentials.
We receive many inquiries about how to make public speaking less stressful. Reducing stress requires managing, transforming, and then using the force of negative feelings. With the right methods, a speaker can learn to convert those negatives into the energy that a powerful presentation or speech demands.
Almost all speakers (and performers) harbor some anxiety, even those who seem most poised. Many maintain that anxiety or nervousness is the heart of a stellar performance. While that may not be true for all of us, we can learn to put both to good purpose. We're planning more Speak Previews® articles on those lessons and how to practice them.
But if you need an immediate answer to a vexing communication question, call our office to speak with one of our consulting staff. If you want a more intensive development opportunity, review our available public speaking seminars. In each seminar, ECG communication specialists work with participants to build competence and confidence, a supportive process that makes a great difference in emotions and abilities.
We welcome comments and questions; each helps focus us and our readers on matters of concern. We urge you, too, to send examples of the good and not-so-good speaking practices that you observe in your professional or public life. We're all operating in the real world, so it's good to know how others communicate in it.