If it doesn't add meaning, nix the adverb

In everyday spoken English, adverbs run amok. We kneel down; we close up, we pass things over to one another; we gather together; we follow behind; we cancel out each other’s votes and so on and on. The problem occurs when excess adverbs sneak into our writing. In many cases they add clutter rather than clarify meaning. When editing, check your use of adverbs and delete those that don't add value. In some instances, you can strengthen your prose by getting rid of a weak adverb and verb combo and substituting a strong verb. Instead of ”She spoke softly.” for instance, write “She whispered." In Write Tight: How To Keep Your Prose Sharp, Focused and Concise, writer-editor William Brohaugh says adverbs do earn their keep at times. For example, he mentions the case when a verb-adverb combination can’t be distilled into a single word, such as in the sentence “He studiously ignored his father.” As Brohaugh points out, that sentence works because no single English word describes the concept of going to pains to make it clear one is not noticing something. Read More...

When speaking in threes "Oops" just doesn't cut it

U.S. presidential hopeful Rick Perry had the right idea during a recent Republican Debate when he tried to make key point in his platform. Unfortunately, for him, he suffered a memory lapse at a critical time. Perry began to name three government agencies he would cut if elected president; but he could only remember two of them. After racking his brain for the third, all he could do was offer a feeble “Oops”.

Whether or not his gaffe derails his political plans, Perry stumbled when he should have soared. If he had delivered his list as intended, he would have tapped into the considerable power of speaking in threes. Read More...

Inflight refuelling & other secrets: 5 top scribes spill

What happens when speechwriters from the U.K., Europe, the U.S. and Canada gather to talk shop? A lot of cross pollination of ideas, that’s for certain. In mid-September the third annual U.K. Speechwriters’ Guild Conference took place in Bournemouth, England. I was honoured to be a speaker and lucky enough to sit in on sessions lead by some mighty impressive wordsmiths. Read the ideas shared by five keynoters below. Read More...

Time spent rehearsing pays off on the podium

It’s rarely scheduled; usually left to the last minute; and frequently dropped from the agenda entirely. What goes missing in action so frequently is rehearsal. In meeting rooms around the world, speakers routinely stand up to talk with little or no rehearsal. Try as hard as they might to hide it: it shows.

Tolerant audiences sit through the stumbles and mispronounced words. But, while they may be polite, the mistakes distract their attention from the message.

Speakers who do rehearse are more likely to come across as confident and at ease. Take for example, Steve Jobs of Apple, or Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. Both are famous in the business world for delivering outstanding speeches and presentations. And both are equally famous for making considerable effort to practise their talks.

Carving out the time to rehearse a speech or presentation can be a challenge. However, even if you’re really squeezed for time, try to fit in these steps: Read More...

When choosing verbs let loose your sharpest arrows

Which one of the two sentences below would you prefer to read or hear spoken?

1. He is not a punctual person.

2. He rarely shows up on time.

Chances are you picked number two because it conveys the idea in a livelier way. Read More...

Tips to make your talking points fly high

Not every assignment calls for a full blown speech. Sometimes the only thing a speaker needs is a set of talking points.

What's the difference? Well, generally the script for a speech is composed of narrative i.e. full sentences, punctuation and even directions to pause. In contrast, talking points most often consist of headings, bulleted text and, in some cases, a backgrounder that contains more detail.

Talking points are a barebones treatment that call on the speaker to fill in the blanks. For that reason, they are most appropriate to speakers who are confident on the podium and who know the subject well.

The responsibility for a good delivery rests heavily on the speaker's shoulders. However, the writer can help assure success by creating talking points that are easy to expand and deliver.

Here are steps you can take to help the speaker you support wing it with panache. Read More...

Repeat words & ideas for impact

Want to compose a Twitter post? Express yourself in no more than 140 characters. Want to leave a voice mail? Spit out your thoughts in under a minute, or risk talking into thin air. Want people to listen to your elevator pitch? Then practise until you can cram your ideas into a 30 second sound bite.

The fast pace of 21st century life has us all communicating at Mach speed. So it’s far from surprising that the times have spawned a book entitled Talk Less Say More. In the pages of her book, communications consultant Connie Dieken urges readers to fight back against the distraction and attention-deficit affected world by learning to condense their thoughts into fewer words.

But how does her advice stack up when it comes to speeches? Is it possible to be too succinct on the podium? Yes, says longtime academic and speechwriting expert Jerry Tarver. According to Professor Tarver, it takes more words per square inch to get a point across in a speech than in writing. (He’s an American, so he doesn’t talk in metric.)

Repetition, which is considered redundant in memos, tweets and many other media, is important in speeches. Since listeners only hear the message, it often takes more than one mention for them to pick up the speaker’s important points. Read More...

Lessons from a movie: providing value beyond words

Speechwriters the world over are talking about the movie The King’s Speech and its insights into the relationship between a high profile speaker and the one person who was able to help him overcome a stutter.

According to the film, speech therapist Lionel Logue went to great lengths to support King George VI. Before important broadcasts, he created a “cosy” setting, opened the windows, and performed like a maestro, conducting his royal client through the script. 

Your speaker probably doesn’t need or expect you to take those steps. However, you can provide value that goes far beyond the words you write. 

Here are five things to do to help your speaker succeed. Read More...

The King's Speech

Whoever thought that a movie that, on the surface, is about someone overcoming a stammer could rivet so much attention. But people are heading to the theatre in droves to see The King's Speech.

I intend to be among them shortly. In the meantime I'm feasting on reading what other communicators have to say. Read More...

Busting the Mehrabian Myth

One of the most enduring tales in presentation folklore is based on the idea that only seven percent of what a speaker says is conveyed via his or her words. The rest of the message - a whopping 93 percent - is transferred via tone of voice and facial expressions.

Enduring tale - yes. Truth - no. Far from it. And yet, the research the tale is based on is valid. Is it all making sense yet?

Here's how the myth came to be...