Talking is a very ineffectual way of communicating detailed information – it’s like trying to collect water from a well with a colander. When you give a speech or presentation always imagine yourself writing with a thick waxy crayon, not a slender mapping pen.
If you choose to make a point with a story, make sure you’re clear in your own mind what the point you’re making is. Ideally you should be able to express it in a single word or short phrase.
Our clients often find that their expertise can be a handicap when it comes to sharing knowledge. The client knows too much and is reluctant to simplify because they’re afraid of being inaccurate and misleading.
Such punctiliousness is admirable in the drafting of an official – or technical – document, but totally inappropriate when speaking to an audience. However fascinating your audience find what you’re saying, there’s only so much they can take in – the rest is white noise.
Take the following example:
“I was instrumental in highlighting the exploitation of internationally recruited overseas domestic workers and worked closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to develop a Code of Practice to close off the discrimination and exploitation of domestic workers being brought into this country by disreputable agencies and employers.”
If you’re in the audience when a speaker hurls a pile of official-sounding abstract words like these at you, you’re likely zone out immediately. Truth is, they’re difficult enough to make sense of on the page.
“Instrumental in highlighting” draws us into a labyrinth of beffudlement – it leaves us yearning for a simple verb to guide us towards enlightenment. Everywhere we turn we’re besieged by trees – but there’s absolutely no sign of the wood!
It’s especially ironic that these words should leave us feeling as empty and confused as they do because they were written with the sole intention of establishing the ethos of the speaker. Their purpose was to establish the speaker’s credibility, achievement and trustworthiness.
Instead they have the opposite effect – leaving us feeling confused, unmoved and increasingly irritated by their opacity. This is a real pity because buried just beneath the verbiage is something really positive and impressive.
The first thing we need to do is to connect the “I” with the simple verb we’ve been craving for – in this instance the verb “develop”. Next we look for some kind of object for develop to get its teeth into. This gives us a promising start:
“I developed a Code of Practice…”; but this begs the question, what Code of Practice? In the original it’s “a Code of Practice to close off the discrimination and exploitation of domestic workers being brought into this country by disreputable agencies and employers.”
The problem here is the euphemistic phrase “to close off”. If we substitute something more direct like “stop” or “put an end to”, the cloud cover of bewilderment falls away dramatically. “Put an end to the discrimination and exploitation of domestic workers recruited from overseas by disreputable agencies and employers.”
Our final version reads like this:
“Working with the Department for Work and Pensions, I developed a code of Practice that put an end to the discrimination and exploitation of domestic workers recruited from overseas by disreputable agencies and employers.”
We’ve reduced the number of words by over 25% from 47 to 32. We’ve cut out the deadwood – e.g “instrumental in highlighting”. And we’re left with a clear statement that has impact, and increases our respect for the speaker. It may not reach the acme of oratorical art, but it does the trick!