Reviewing a speech after it happens is just as important and prepping and giving a speech. Why? For a number of reasons, including reviewing your word patterns for “empty words” in public speaking. If you have a chance to record your talk, do it and review it.
What are “empty words”? In short, they’re words you wouldn’t write out, but say in split seconds of discomfort. The goal should be to eliminate them from your “off-the-cuff” speaking. In most cases, using these words betray the possible uniqueness of your message. Words, these words act as codes for how the speaker feels about his/her subject. In a negative way.
Here are 6 empty words you should strive to get rid of:
Kind of / Sort of
The most common empty word I hear. Weak and wishy-washy, you should never say it. Period. Nothing worth hearing about is kind of sort of an important idea. It either is or it isn’t. Say your sentences again without them and see how much better they are.
When I reviewed Rory Sutherland for TED Tuesdays, I observed his use of the word “actually” an unreal 37 times. Like many of these empty words, once they slip into our usage patterns, we’re susceptible to overusing them.
The trick with actually is that is does have a use: it’s a pivot word to indicate incorrect expectations or prevailing wisdom: “Actually, the electric car IS a more cost-effective purchase and here’s why…” There’s an inherent element of surprise in its use. When you use “actually”, it’s because you want the listening to react with “Oh, is that true?” And that’s the problem. Used selectively, its a good misdirection tool. Used liberally, it’s a stakes-reducer. Look at one of Rory Sutherland’s sentences: from his aforementioned TED talk:
“What Ataturk realized actually is two very fundamental things. Which is that, actually, first one, all value is actually relative. All value is perceived value.
For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, jugo de naranja — it’s actually the Spanish for “orange juice.” Because actually it’s not the dollar. It’s actually the peso in Buenos Aires.”
None of these are necessary. And with repetition comes recognition. The more you say it, the more people notice and less it means. Eliminating these and you are already speaking more directly.
After all that talking, you’re going to tell me that it’s “basically” something “in a nutshell”? Why not just tell me that upfront? When I hear someone say “basically”, I hear two things: vagueness and lack of confidence.
On vagueness, consider this example. You go to an electronics retailer and ask for a specifically type of product, let’s say a TV. The sales person responds by saying,
“This right here is basically what you need. It’s basically a TV”.
OK. What type of features does it have?
“Well, it basically has a 42-inch screen, which is basically high def and, basically, it’s a great price for this type of model.”
As a potential buyer, do you feel like you know more about the product? In the face of such noncommittal salesmanship, you ready to commit to buying what’s “basically a TV”? Of course not. And the same goes for your speech. You are selling something, an idea, a product, etc. and the more you use a term like basically in describing your key concepts, the more it sounds like you’re covering up flaws.
Then, there’s lack of confidence. In these cases, when people are explaining a product or a concept, they bail on their explanation and boil things down to the easily digestible. Or they never attempt in the first place. They have pieces of a message, perhaps, but not the confidence required to sell it. Does the salesman above sound like he believes his TV is really a TV?
Get rid of basically. Take time to hatch a quality explanation of something.
Like a cousin to “basically,” this is an idea reducer to the lowest common denominator. Except in this case, the idea seems to be that the idea, as previously spoken, could go in any number of directions:
“Social media is all about ROI.”
Next time you hear all about, try substituting “100%” and see if you still agree. Is social media 100% ROI? Some may think so, but that’s a bold statement. That is what you’re saying by “all about.” Unless you mean, mostly about, which is probably the case. So, that means, it’s about one major thing and any number of smaller things. When an idea is “all about” something, it’s usually a mishmash of semi-related things forced together into a supposed grand idea.
In Terms Of
When starting a conversation, have you ever first paused to ask what the terms are? Just by speaking, you are setting the terms, so there’s no need to call attention to your subject matter. Unless you think no one’s been listening to you this entire time. Which may be the case if you use this passive voice phrase too often.
From my time as a musician and performer, I’ve long had this word on auto-ignore. It’s impossible to count the number of times someone is described as “amazingly talented” or “simply amazing” or just “amazing” when any form of creativity is involved. In fact, I think the word has devolved to the point where its little more than a substitute for “creative” itself.
Show don’t tell. “Amazing” is a judgement of something made by the observer. I’ll decide what’s amazing for myself. Telling me that an idea is amazing in effect robs me of the chance to determine that for myself. Show me something amazing., Don’t tell me something’s amazing. If you have to tell me, you probably can’t show me.