I wish you'd told me earlier

creativity Jan 10, 2022

Do you ever get those moments when you think “Why didn’t someone tell me that a long time ago?” I was thinking the other day of some of the advice that would have saved me a lot of work and frustration if I’d received it earlier. 

If you want to be a better speaker, stop writing your speeches

There’s a world of difference between a speech and an essay. So why do so many speakers start by writing an essay? We make life so difficult for ourselves when we write out (usually in silence) our scripts and then try to bring them to life in front of an audience. Get the words to flow comfortably out of your mouth before you commit them to the page. That's why I created the TalkitOut Technique, to help presenters speak their words out loud BEFORE writing them down.

If you want to communicate more, say less

If you are a subject-matter expert, your knowledge is encyclopedic. But you can’t share everything you know in one article, one speech or one presentation. Resist the temptation to try to cover too much ground. The more points you try to make, the fewer the audience will remember. Focus your message. Better to make one point well than six points badly.

Small words deliver the most powerful punches

Having a large vocabulary enriches our lives. But it’s the small, simple words that do most of the heavy lifting when we engage in conversation - like a speech or presentation. You can’t afford to have your audience wondering ‘what did he say?’, or puzzling over the meaning of one of the big words from the top shelf of your vocabulary. You are speaking at three words per second, so any polysyllabic bump in the road can cause a big wreck in a short time.

Words are only a part of the communication equation

As speakers and writers we treasure the power of our words. But sometimes we give them too much credit. Words matter - but they’re not always the most powerful tool we have. Our body language, our tone, our pauses, the images we use if we’re giving a presentation - all of these can impact out audience more than the words themselves. Don’t rely on words alone. Use all the tools.

If you want to be a better writer, read more poems

Simplicity of expression was drummed in to me from journalism school. But it really hit home years later when I heard veteran American storyteller Bob Dotson talk about a book of poems being his text book - “Not so much for the poetry itself but for the way the language went together.” Poems, and the lyrics of popular songs, highlight how much can be said with very few words… and how the rhythm and the sound of words rubbing together is a vital part of the communication.

If you want to get better answers, ask simpler questions

Gathering information is such an important part of our lives. But sometimes we sabotage the process by over-complicating the questions. Three things to bear in mind:

1 - don’t overload each question. Don’t add extra elements. You should be trying to narrow the focus of the question, not broaden it. Putting too many eggs into a cake mix doesn’t mean you get a better cake.

2 - don’t try to impress with your knowledge. Remember Peter Falk as detective Colombo? His ‘dumb’ questions always got a confession. 

3 - preface your questions with one of the following: who, what, when, where, how, why. And the most powerful question word is often a simple ‘Why?’

Be who you are, not who you think you should be

Performance anxiety sometimes scrambles our brains. We stand up in front of an audience, and suddenly we change: we become stiffer, we talk faster, we pause less. Relaxed people become formal, formal people start telling jokes. Remember that for the audience to accept your message they need to accept you... so they need to be convinced you are authentic. Be comfortable being yourself - the person your friends like to hang with.

You can learn more about the TalkitOut Technique in my Presentations Masterclass video course or e-book.