Friday, December 31, 2010

Emphasizing Your Point in Three Sentences: Laudable Example From Neil deGrasse Tyson--Astrophysicist and Communicator Extraordinaire

In my presentations on “Conquering the Pervasive Disease of Rambling: How to Emphasize Your Point in Just Three Sentences” (a workshop that has been attended by several thousand people since its inception in the late ‘90s and which has become one of the three most popular topics in my repertoire), the collection of real-life examples in the handout comprises praiseworthy and highly instructive three-sentence utterances by articulate Americans in business, government, education, and law enforcement. The world of science has been conspicuously absent.

Then, last week, while watching “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,” I came across an exemplary three-sentence statement by American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, arguable the most articulate of all the personages who grace “NOVA” and other science programs on television. And this was literally a case of “manna from heaven” because the reason for Mr. deGrasse Tyson’s appearance on that program was the coinciding of a total lunar eclipse with the winter solstice—the first time that has happened in nearly 400 years. Emphasizing why he will be focusing his attention later that night on the shade of red that the moon will take on at the zenith of the eclipse, Mr. deGrasse Tyson said:

“I will look forward to learning what is going on in our atmosphere from that signature of the reflected light on the moon. How much volcanic ash is still up there; what kind of pollutants are there; are there dust storms that kicked up just before the eclipse unfolded? So, there’s some information you can learn about earth’s atmosphere by monitoring the color of the eclipsed moon.”

The above promises to become one of the most prized real-life examples in future renditions of “Conquering the Pervasive Disease….” workshop because of the series of mini, evocative, and staccato questions that Mr. deGrasse Tyson packed into the crucial second sentence.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Expanding Your Vocabulary: New Edition of “Words of the Month”

The latest edition of “Words of the Month,” my free vocabulary enhancement feature, has been online since early last week. Among the featured words, all of which lie within the conversational vocabulary of America’s most articulate:

1. plebeian – to describe something that is crude or rough in style, manner, nature, etc; something that is commonplace, coarse, or lacking in refinement.
comment: I can’t recall any word featured in “Words of the Month” in recent years that has given me as much pleasure (in developing the examples) as has plebeian, perhaps because of its wide applicability. Here are some of my favorite examples:
(i) a member of a company’s top management who demonstrates the rare ability to be an executive and a plebeian at the same time by the way he mingles and interfaces with the company’s blue-collar workforce
(ii) a gourmet cook who, with a little bit of tweaking, can transform a plebeian dish into something that tastes and looks extraordinary
(iii) following the company’s annual Christmas party, one male employee saying to another: “I don’t think Ted’s remarks were appreciated by the women at the party. They were so coarse, so plebeian.”
(iv) “Oh, so you drive an LS 460! That is one of the top of the line Lexuses, right? My Lexus is a plebeian model—the ES 350.”
(v) a woman telling her spouse: “For an event like this, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go in jeans, and old faded ones at that. We don’t want to look like plebeians!”

2. beneficence – to describe the quality of being kind, generous; also: a charitable donation or generous gift.
comment: A great synonym for words such as largesse, charity, kindness, and munificence.

Yet to complete.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Verbal Tics: Even a Couple of Utterances of “Basically”/ “Essentially” in Quick Succession Can Muddy a Communication and the Speaker’s Image

When talking about filler words and other verbal tics and how they can eviscerate an otherwise well crafted presentation (a subtopic in my recent presentations on “Simple Verbal and Nonverbal Skills for Creating a Highly Favorable First Impression” at PMI Global Congress North America 2010 and at the Minnesota Government IT Symposium), I always share with my audiences some real-life examples to buttress my points. I also name names--not to denigrate anyone but because doing so endows my ideas and admonitions with credibility and helps establish that filler words and other disfluencies can get the better of even highly trained speakers and broadcast professionals, if they lower their guard.

Take a listen and see for yourself how even a couple of uses of "basically"/"essentially" and the like, when uttered in quick succession, can render a communication inelegant. The link is to a segment from a recent edition (Dec. 22) of “Marketplace Morning Report” --one of my favorite radio programs. You will hear co-host Stacey Vanek Smith utter the following as she throws her first question to guest David Lazarus of the LA Times on the subject of Christmas shopping: “Retail sales have been pretty good this season so far. It’s strange, though, that we seem to be spending again, given that unemployment is basically worse and personal income is flat. Why, since the economy’s basically where it was last year, is consumer spending up so much this season?”

For my thoughts on (i) how verbal tics can seriously dilute the impact of a presentation or other important communication (my research indicates that as much as 40% to 60% of an audience can become distracted and lose their focus on the speaker’s message!), and (ii) how to eliminate such disfluencies from your “system,” see posts of June 28 and Sept. 29.