Tag Archives | presentation tips

Business Communication: Keep It Simple

When we communicate at work, our primary objective is to get ideas from our minds directly into someone else’s quickly, concisely, and accurately. Our goal is to express—not impress.

Why use a four-syllable word when a one-syllable word works just as well—or better.  At work, it’s not uncommon to readCommunicate to express--not impress or hear something like this:

The manager’s utilization of corporate training facilities is less than optimal.

However, would anyone ever say:

My three-year old son’s utilization of the bathroom facilities is less than optimal.

Good ideas are impressive all on their own

Unless a particular word provides greater precision or nuance, it’s best to stick with the simplest, most direct words we can find. Some of the most eloquent communications in the world have been extremely simple:

  • Jesus wept. (This is the shortest sentence in the Bible.)
  • “The news from France is very bad.” Winston Churchill said this in his speech about Dunkirk. His message was much stronger than if he had said, “The situation in France is becoming increasingly serious.”
  • Roosevelt summed it up when he said, “Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all.”

Clarity is critical—an anecdote

Puffed up words don’t make us look smarter, but they can detract from the clarity of our message.

A plumber in New York City once wrote to the Federal Bureau of Standards that he had found hydrochloric acid did a good job of cleaning out clogged drains.

The bureau wrote: The efficacy of hydrochloric acid is indisputable, but the corrosive residue is incompatible with metallic permanence.

The plumber replied he was glad the bureau agreed.

Again, the bureau wrote: We cannot assume responsibility for the production of toxic and noxious residue with hydrochloric acid and suggest you use an alternative procedure.

The plumber was happy again that the bureau agreed with him.

Finally, the bureau wrote: Don’t use hydrochloric acid. It eats the hell out of the pipes.

What’s unique about the following passage?

In my business writing classes, I used to ask participants to describe what was unique about these paragraphs. Can you see what the author has done?

Small words can be crisp, brief, terse—go to the point like a knife. They have a charm all their own. They dance, twist, turn, sing. Like sparks in the night, they light the way for the eyes of those who read. They are the grace notes of prose. You know what they say the way you know a day is bright and fair—at first sight. And you find, as you read, that you like the way they say it. Small words are gay. And they can catch large thoughts and hold them up for all to see, like rare stones in rings of gold, or joy in the eyes of a child. Some make you feel, as well as see: the cold deep dark of night, the hot salt string of tears.

Small words move with ease where big words stand still—or worse bog down and get in the way of what you want to say . . .

The above is an excerpt from Joseph Ecclesine’s “Advice to Scientists—in Words of One Syllable,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 1965. His advice was to communicate in the clearest, most concise way possible–especially when we are communicating about complex topics. In spite of the years that have passed since Mr. Ecclesine wrote his article, I don’t think much has changed about the best way to communicate, do you?

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Manage the Presentation Terrors with These 3 Secrets

Learn to laugh, breathe, and push a wall to purge those nerves before you present to senior leaders.

It was 7:00 a.m. on a Friday morning many years ago, and I was scheduled to give a speech to the senior leadership team at Honeywell’s Systems and Research Center. It would be the first presentation I’d ever made to a group of executives. I was so nervous my hands shook, my knees wobbled, and I didn’t have a speck of spit left in my mouth to swallow.Managing nerves while presenting

I arrived at the conference room an hour early to practice and get my nerves under control. I was wired and so scared about making a fool of myself in front of my senior leadership team. I started speaking to the empty room, pretending each seat held an executive. Suddenly, I heard someone clapping, and I turned to find a man standing in the doorway.

“Honey, you’re going to be just fine,” smiled the janitor as he held both hands above his head in a victory shake. “Just look ‘em straight in the eye when you speak, answer their questions, and don’t forget to breathe.” I started to laugh, and in an instant, my nervousness disappeared. I thanked him for the tips, and by the time the executives came into the room, I was ready. I’ve never forgotten that man, and that he cared enough to give a frightened young businesswoman some much needed encouragement. I learned that day how laughter and remembering to breathe are excellent ways to dispel what I not so fondly referred to as the presentation terrors.

A couple of years later, I learned another way to manage the presentation terrors. I came across an article about how actor Yul Brenner pushed a wall before each of his performances in The King and I. He understood that by managing his nervous energy he would give a better performance.

Nervous energy is simply unchecked adrenalin, and it’s not a bad thing. Without energy, our presentation delivery is blah and boring. Learning to harness it allows us to direct that energy into our voice and gestures, which increases our power to inform, persuade and motivate others. When we don’t know how to manage that energy, adrenalin floods our bodies. The result?  A shaky, weak voice. Sweaty hands. And, wobbly knees. So, the next time your adrenalin is misbehaving right before an important presentation, find something to laugh about and push a wall:

  • Stand about two feet in front of your chosen wall.
  • Place both hands flat against it.
  • Push as hard as you can. As you push, your diaphragm will tighten, and the adrenalin will disperse throughout your body, leaving you with energy—and without the shakes.

Not convenient to push a wall? No worries. Just sit back in your chair and push against the conference table, discretely—but as hard as you can. You’ll get the same result, and no one will notice.

And, whatever you do, don’t forget to breathe!

Please share your own tips about how to manage the presentation terrors.

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