As a writer, I can be pretty sloppy or lazy, at times. However, I do look for ways to learn how to improve the quality of my writing. George Orwell had 6 questions and 6 rules he applied to ensure what he had to say was clear to the reader.
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
From George Orwell’s Essay – “Politics and the English Language.“
More short writing tips – Streamline your written messages.
Listening well, speaking clearly and asking the right questions—these skills are vital to your success as a communicator. The good news is that by using a few simple strategies, you can boost your own communication confidence.
The way to avoid ineffective communication patterns is to practice being authentic. This means explaining how you really feel and asking for what you really need.
When you communicate effectively, you’re direct and honest. Believe you have a right to feel what you feel and to ask for what you need. This will help you speak authentically. The following ideas can also help you communicate effectively:
- Speak clearly and simply. Try to say what you mean. If you think you may have trouble saying something you need to say, write it out and practice.
- Make sure your voice matches what you want to say. Does it sound like you’re joking when you want to be serious? Are you mumbling because you think it’s selfish to ask for what you need?
- Be aware of your posture. It’s hard to speak clearly and authentically when you’re slouched over or slumped in a chair.
- Stay in touch with your body. Is your stomach in knots? Is your heart racing? What do these signals tell you about how you’re feeling? Breathe and allow yourself to relax as much as you can.
- Keep your goals in mind. They’ll help you stay in touch with what you need.
- Speak for yourself by using the word “I.” Using the word “you” often means you’re focusing on the other person rather than yourself. The word “I” puts you in touch with your feelings. Instead of “You have no right to say that to me!” say “I get really hurt and angry when you say that to me!”
Respect yourself and others
When you communicate authentically, you respect yourself and the other person. You make sure that the other person hears your feelings and needs, but you also listen to that person’s feelings and needs too.
You show respect when you:
- Choose the appropriate time and place to express your feelings and communicate your needs. For example, asking instructors in front of the class about a mark you feel is unfair puts them on the spot.
- Express yourself as clearly as possible and listen carefully to others when they speak.
- Take responsibility for your own feelings. Don’t put the other person down in order to express yourself.
- Ask people how they feel about what you’ve shared with them and respond to their feelings.
Our brain works a lot faster than our mouth. People at a rate of about 125 words per minute, but our brains turn out ideas at a much faster rate. Our thoughts race ahead while we listen, filling in the space between what the speaker is trying to say and our thoughts. This is why many people have trouble listening. It’s estimated we hear only 25 per cent of what’s said to us.
Here are some ideas to help you become a better listener:
- Make eye contact
- Don’t think of listening time as waiting for your turn to speak.
- Listen to understand.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Listen for the feeling beneath what the speaker is saying.
When you communicate authentically, you bring your whole self—your thoughts, feelings and experiences—with you. You show others that you respect yourself and them too.
When you’re honest and direct, people pay attention. Your voice is heard.
I missed correctly crediting this article when I posted. This was written a few years ago by my friend Kim Garreffa and first posted here.
When speaking in front of an audience, these tips will help you communicate more effectively on stage:
- Consciously lift your eyebrows. It will immediately brighten your face.
- Smile. A lot.
- Channel your nervousness into your diaphragm. Relax your neck, and your shoulders, and breathe slowly and deeply using your diaphragm. Put any tension you have there. When you breathe in, your stomach should push out. As you breathe out, your stomach should shrink. (Your shoulders should not move when you breathe)
- Hands should be at your sides and still, unless you are using them to express your piece, or are holding a microphone.
- Hold the microphone at an angle it so you are speaking directly into the top of it. The microphone should be 2 to 5 inches away from your mouth—no farther.
- Raise your voice pitch slightly from your normal speaking voice. It will make you sound more energized and less tired. Project your voice to the back of the room, using your diaphragm, not your vocal chords, to increase the volume. Enunciate your consonants.
- Stand with legs shoulder width apart. Stand straight. Don’t lean or slouch.
- Own the message you are communicating. Don’t just speak words. If the message isn’t important to you, you’re not going to make it important to your listeners?
- Make sure you have water handy. Nervousness often causes a dry mouth—often unexpectedly.
- If you are too nervous to look at the audience, look slightly above them.
- Memorize as much as possible before you get on stage. It will be easier to focus on expression and communication.
- If you make a mistake, ignore it and move on. The audience will forget it as fast as you do (if they noticed it in the first place). Facial expressions or comments only draw attention to the mistake and make it easier to remember.
Success in public speaking can open a world of opportunity for you. It can broaden your horizons through personal development, influence, and advances in your profession.
Public Speaking Influences Your Personal Development
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-worth ranks highest. Giving speeches helps us realize self-worth through the satisfaction experienced when a good speech is given. We become more confident, especially when the audience responds positively. It also reduces anxiety when asked by an authority to speak in front of people.
There was a student who dropped a course five times because he hated speaking in front of the class. After some self-study on building confidence, he decided to give public speaking a try and was successful. He came to enjoy the experience and even volunteered to give more speeches.
Using public speaking tools such as research, conceptualization, and organization, you have a systematic and effective way of presenting your ideas. With this experience, you will be better able to express yourself. You will also become more open to other people.
Public speaking satisfies your sense of achievement when the audience accepts you warmly. This reflects your level of communication skills and acumen. All these contribute to your self-esteem.
Public Speaking Influences Your Society
It is not only you who can benefit from the art of public speaking, but society as well. Governments and local organizations listen to the voice of their members. With proper communication skills, you can represent the public in voicing your rights and opinions.
An example of this would be community discussion. When a neighborhood holds regular meetings, it discusses issues or courses of action. In the discussion, opinions are expressed. Those with strong speaking skills have an advantage in communicating their opinion.
People from all walks of life need to speak in public, whether formally or otherwise: students reciting in school; folks in a town meeting; citizens voicing national issues. There is no easy way to avoid public speaking.
Public Speaking Influences Your Professional Development
Public speaking can help in your career. We tend to think of success as measured by how long you have been in your job or educational qualifications. However, research shows, one of the best indicator of success in any profession is how often a person is asked to give speeches. Those who give more speeches tend to have higher salaries than those who give less or no speeches.
Take this average engineer. She enrolls in a public speaking seminar that teaches two hours a week for six weeks. After two months, she is promoted to senior engineer. Her boss has been noticing her superb presentations.
The longer you work for an organization and the higher you climb the organizational ladder, the more your boss will ask you to preside over meetings and to give talks to the staff and subordinates or the clients. The higher your position, the more your responsibilities in leading people under you; and the more you must speak effectively.
A manager once said, “From the chairman of the board to the assistant manager of the most obscure department, nearly everyone in business speaks in public or makes a speech at some time or the other.”
It ’s not just big organizations and companies, small organizations and businesses also need staff who are good public speakers. If the high school is not persuasive enough to tell the school board that new gym equipment is needed, the athletes might have to make do with the old equipment. If salespeople cannot explain their products with a convincing sales pitch, fewer people will buy the products. This is true for nurses, doctors, firemen, police personnel and other professions.
Whatever you do, your capacity and capabilities can be improved through effective public speaking skills.
I attended a funeral some time ago for a woman who had lived a good, long life. There were two eulogies given, one by a long-time friend and the other from a family member. It was interesting to hear the similar themes that came out as they spoke of someone who had played an important part in their lives.
I’ve only ever given one eulogy. Deaths of family and friends have been few and far between. If called upon to give a eulogy, here is a simple template I would use.
- Introduce yourself and your connection to the deceased. “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Ian and Mavis was my aunt.”
- Briefly summarize the life of the deceased:
- When they were born
- Where they were born
- Growing up
- Marriage, family, etc
- Briefly summarize the accomplishments of the deceased:
- Share happy memories. Mix in tasteful humorous memories, but be careful. Only talk about the good times if the final years have been sad. For example, cite a characteristic expression or an activity that everyone will recognize.
- Talk about something(s) you learned from this person:
- Their motivation or passion
- How they changed someone’s life
- Tell why you’ll always remember the person.
- End with a final goodbye.
Keep it flowing. A eulogy should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should have one theme. It shouldn’t jump around from topic to topic, but rather stay tightly focused. In other words, while the occasion is sad, a eulogy is still a speech. Treat it like one.
Another essential skill for successful speakers is using the correct form of the language. Being limited to English, I can’t say what equivalent errors might exist in other languages. However, nothing can destroy your credibility as a speaker than the misuse of the language. Toastmasters International highlights the importance of correct language by appointing a Grammarian to listen to everyone’s word usage and report on language used during the course of a meeting.
Rather than try and provide detailed information for all types of language land mines, here are links to resources, which can help you improved your language skills:
- Improve your diction. How you pronounce words will affect the way an audience perceives your credibility as a speaker. Here is a list of the 100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in English.
- Improve your grammar. Many people feel grammar is a secondary issue of little importance. The rise of text messaging has destroyed written grammar and syntax. Grammar is important for conveying information in a way that can be understood and not misunderstood. The Online English Grammar gives you access to English language learning and resource services.
- Improve your usage. There are many words in the English language that are so much alike speakers often mistake one for another. Perhaps the most exhaustive resource on usage is Paul Brians’ site, Common Errors in English.
- Avoid technical language. Unless of course, you’re speaking to a technical audience. Just because you understand the jargon and terms you’re using, doesn’t mean your audience will. Adjust your speech appropriately.
- Words to look out for:
- Fad words – bottom line, time frame, viable…
- Extra words – naturally, actually, frankly, so to speak…
- Slang – fresh, dis, Fo’ shizzle, Homey… hip hop examples, but they exist in all social groups.
- Words ending in wise – healthwise, moneywise, timewise…
- Degrading words – slang terms for different nationalities.
Say just what you want to say in words that everyone will understand the same way. Murphy’s Law of Communication, “If people can misunderstand you, they will misunderstand you.”