Though it’s true that a picture can be worth a thousand words, we still rely upon words to carry the complete message and the full story. They capture the narrative, clarify the abstract, conceptualize the unseen. When Chris Burkard gave a TED talk in 2015, he showed the audience jaw-dropping photos and videos of what he does as a surf photographer. But it was only through his words that the audience could fully appreciate his challenging quest for the perfect waves, in the most remote beaches of the world. His visuals impressed; his words inspired. His photos portrayed the outcome; his words described the process.
Because words produce a different kind of impact, effective presenters are careful to invest ample time in brainstorming key messages, finalizing speech outlines and framing relevant stories. Yet on some days, you’re at a loss for words. You can scarcely find any workable words at all, or your word choices just won’t adequately convey your thoughts.
At the opposite end of the trouble spectrum, sometimes you’re piled up with too many words. You’re able to express what you want to, but only at great length – greater length than most audience members will be willing to tolerate.
Get the words just right – consistently – calls for plenty of time, effort and raw experience. Fortunately it is a learnable skill. To help build your skill, we recommend you adopt the four habits below.
#1: Clearly define your point
Finding the right words can be almost impossible if you haven’t clearly defined – for yourself – the point you’re trying to convey. Likewise, It’s awfully difficult to stick to a point when you don’t know what that point really is. So take a minute, take two minutes, take as long as it takes to work out the concept you mean to put across. With that small task completed, finding the words to express yourself is a far more fruitful pursuit.
#2: Observe how others speak
Pay attention to how other people express their thoughts in different scenarios – in interviews, in presentations and speeches, even in everyday conversation. This lets you analyze how people think, how they express their thoughts, and the words and phrases that matter to them. You’ll see that some are quite gifted at describing a situation, telling a joke, or expressing a feeling. Seeing what is effective (and what isn’t), you can improve your own word choices and patterns of expression.
#3: Read, read, read
Reading builds your vocabulary. Spending at least 15 minutes a day reading – books, magazines, online articles, etc. – exposes you to a wide array of words, and ways of employing them in different contexts. A rich vocabulary hones your ability to express your thoughts, anytime and anywhere, from important meetings or events, to simple conversations.
One more important point: whenever you encounter a new word, or one you’re not entirely clear on, take a few moments to look it up and get it clearly defined for yourself. There’s nothing like using a word or phrase incorrectly to muddle (or massacre!) your message and give your listeners a poor impression of your knowledge and competence.
#4: Prioritize ideas
When you’re engaged in an exchange of ideas with another or others and your mind is buzzing with a swarm of thoughts, reactions, responses and opinions, it can become confusing – what should you say next? When this occurs, take a quick mental time-out and decide which idea is likely to be the most relevant and important to those with whom you’re communicating. The more you can bring this kind of empathy into the equation, the more your listeners will find value in what you say, and appreciate your presence and contributions.
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Have you cultivated any other successful habits or practices for enhancing word skills? Please share them in the comments, below!