Saturday, December 31, 2011

Public Speaking Tips: Power of the Pregnant Pause

The unusually illustrious Mark Twain was also an enormously successful public speaker. So, it’s worth our while to ponder his views on the pregnant pause--a vital ingredient of powerful public speaking.

In his biography of Mark Twain, author Ron Powers writes that Twain came to use the pause “almost as a thing of weighted substance, as a length of solid lead to place between his well-constructed words.” He then cites the following quote from Twain: "The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” (Emphasis within the quote by yours truly).

Hard to imagine a more instructive and weighty testimonial for the pregnant pause.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

The Freakish “Top-Of-The-Food-Chain” Prehistoric Creature Discovered Earlier this Month: An Image That Is Bound to Impact Science Fiction

Do you remember the headline-making discovery earlier this month (off the coast of Australia) of the fossilized eyes of something called "the anomalocaris" --a “freakish, nearly 3-foot long, prehistoric super-predator” that lived in the oceans some 500 million years ago and was at the top of the food chain? (I guess, with such a menacing anatomy, it had to be!) Well, the thing that strikes me most about this unsettlingly fearsome creature is its huge eyes—sticking out several inches from the sides of its head, at the end of “stalks.” See for your self by clicking here.

I bet the anomalocaris’s eyes will inspire generations of science fiction writers and artists when giving form to some of their alien creations.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Friday, December 30, 2011

Visual, Evocative Words to Emphasize Something: Some Inspiring Examples From a Discussion on the Legendary John Brown

Just watched a month-old PBS interview with Tony Horwitz, author of a recent book (“Midnight Rising”) about the legendary John Brown’s famous raid seeking to end slavery. Extremely impressed--and stirred--by Mr. Horwitz’s extraordinary verbal expression. Here are some examples:

-- (pointing out that other abolitionists believed in “education and moral uplift” as the way to defeat slavery): “Brown derided this as milk-and-water abolitionism, weak and ineffectual”

-- “he had this charisma, this moral magnetism that got people to give money and guns to his cause”

-- “this rough-hewn frontier warrior had an intoxicating effect on genteel parlor radicals of the North”

-- (question: “was he crazy, was he a madman?”) “He was certainly obsessive, he had this ‘Ahab quality’ about him…also very grandiose in his dreams.”

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Female Attire: For “Low Contrast” Women, A Contrasting Color Is A Must!

Just as is the case with low-contrast men, the face of a low-contrast woman (i.e. a light skinned blonde) will be overwhelmed if she were to wear a high contrast attire (such as a black dress with a prominent white border). The observer’s gaze will be constantly pulled down by the thus lowered center of gravity.

On the flip side, a low contrast woman should assiduously avoid wearing a dress that is almost identical in color to her face and hair because it will make her look flat and boring. Wearing a color that provides a nice contrast to her skin tones will sharply enhance the light-skinned woman’s presence and bolster her personality.

The three video clips below, featuring Consuelo Mack (whom I strongly admire because of the great public service she is providing through her “Wealthtrack” television program on PBS) illustrate my point. Clearly, Ms. Mack looks much sharper--has a far more robust appearance--in clips 2 and 3 than in clip 1 which presents an image that is almost monochromatic from top to bottom.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

“The Blue Marble”: Quintessential Example of an Image That Changed the World

Today’s edition of Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac” reminded us of that beautiful image of planet earth captured by Apollo astronauts—the one that has since been dubbed “The Blue Marble”—and how it helped spawn the environmental movement.

More later.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Yes, “Irregardless” is a Word. Of Course, Using it is Not a Good Idea Because...

The featured word in yesterday’s edition of Merriam Webster’s “Word of the day”—the most worthwhile of the various word-of-the-day emails that fly around in cyberspace—was “regardless.” I was immediately reminded of how indignantly some in my seminar audiences have reacted when, as a teaser or in a moment of frivolity, I have uttered the word “irregardless.” “V.J., there is no such word,” they say vehemently.

Well, of course “irregardless” is a word--after all, it is featured in all dictionaries. But, yes, it is considered “non-standard” and its usage not recommended. It’s best to reproduce the relevant comment from that “Word of the Day” email from Merriam Webster’s: "Irregardless" originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century, and usage commentators have been decrying it since the 1920s, often declaring "there is no such word." "Irregardless" does exist, of course, but it tends to be used primarily in speech and it is still considered nonstandard. "Regardless" is greatly preferred.

Summing up: Yes, “irregardless” is a word but using it is not at all a good idea because first, it is non-standard, and second, its use will provoke angry glares from many in your audience--not in your interest if you want to be endearing.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Common Mistake by Caucasian/ Other Light Skinned Men When Selecting a Tie: The Perils of an Attire with Contrast that Far Exceeds That of Face

The problem, stated perhaps much too cryptically in the above title, is best explained by the first of the two video clips at the bottom of this post. And let’s begin by describing the subject in the video, who happens to be Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. He has what experts call a “low-contrast face,” as do all men who have a very light skin and possess blonde/very light brown hair or no hair at all. [As a corollary, if Erdogan had lots of brown hair, his would be a “medium-contrast” face, and if he had lots of black hair, the term to describe his natural features above the neck would be “high contrast,” as is the case with most young Chinese males.]

Now let’s turn to Erdogan’s attire in the first clip. The clothes present a very high contrast, thanks to the design of the tie, what with its alternating (and bold!) black and white stripes. The result: an attire that easily dominates the rest of him, so much so that his face--which is what ultimately should attract and hold the observer’s eye--retreats into the background, almost falling off the picture. Why is this happening? Because, with the “center of gravity” of Erdogan’s overall appearance having been lowered to a spot below the neck, the observer’s gaze too is forcibly pulled down, to his chest area! It’s extremely important to note that Erdogan would have had a similar problem of the face being overwhelmed by a high contrast attire if he had worn a plain tie but one that contrasted very strongly with the rest of his clothes--for instance, a bright red tie, a white shirt, and a very dark jacket.

Let us now click on the second video clip. Notice that this time, as you look at him, your gaze is NOT pulled down below the neck. In fact, the glow emanating from his face is heightened thanks to the appropriateness of his attire. Yes, his tie-shirt-jacket combination does have an inbuilt contrast but the level is low, matching in intensity the low contrast of his face. You might well ask, what if Erdogan had swung to the other extreme, donning an attire with absolutely no contrast, such as a light blue shirt, light blue tie, and light blue jacket? Well, that’s not a good idea either because such an attire, while not pulling down the center of gravity from his face, would look boring and unimaginative and fail to add to the glow from his face. The unfavorable impression that results from a timid, ultra-low contrast attire will be the subject of a later blog.

The key lesson in all this: when choosing an attire, remember the overall objective, which is to heighten the glow from you face and thus hold the observer’s attention to it. The next time you step into an apparel store to buy a new tie, do not be seduced by a tie’s intrinsic beauty.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Vocabulary Enhancement Words: New Edition of “Words of the Month”

The latest edition of “Words of the Month,” my free vocabulary enrichment feature, has been online since the middle of this month. The six featured words, all of which lie within the conversational vocabulary of America’s most articulate (as is the case with all of the words featured in my book, “The Articulate Professional-3rd Edition”):

1. machismo
2. effrontery
3. conduit
4. imperial
5. sclerotic
6. timber

Here are extracts from some of my favorite examples, all carefully designed to help you expand your vocabulary:

-- (with reference to Putin being promoted as a he-man--riding a horse bare-chested, wrestling with a tiger…) the fact that Russians enjoy brandishing the machismo element in their leader suggests an almost primitive zeitgeist

-- VW’s CEO hoping that American men will be attracted by the new Beetle’s machismo-oozing front

-- someone wondering whether China is pursuing its massive military buildup out of some national machismo

-- while discussing how organizations can raise their probability of success, the famous Christine Lagarde talking about the perils of unrestrained machismo in the meeting room

-- I believe her fetish for eating raw eggs is a result of her health-extremist machismo

-- some of the other non-phallic symbols of machismo: the late John Wayne, a bushy mustache, the Super Bowl, a really stiff drink…

-- several of the movie characters portrayed by the late actor Burt Lancaster seemed to exude machismo

-- an example of political correctness run amok: some regarding the mention of Santa Claus and Christmas as “cultural effrontery

-- during an address by President Obama to a joint session of Congress, South Carolina's Joe Wilson having the effrontery to shout out “You lie”

-- our former employee, who has less than a year’s worth of work experience, now has the effrontery to hang out a shingle calling herself a “business consultant”

-- to prevent school shooting rampages, campus police must talk to students and thus become “conduits for information,” says a Princeton University expert

-- a sales broker becoming a conduit for illicit payments from a U.S. manufacturer seeking lucrative contracts in Asia

-- the “all managers lunch” held every Friday in the cafeteria has become a conduit for ideas, even jokes, to travel across all departments within the company

-- Walgreens and other drugstore chains pushing their private brands in competition with imperial brands such as Gillette and Colgate-Palmolive

-- people in some foreign countries resentful of what they describe as “the imperialism of American pop culture”

-- the imperial manner of Gen. Douglas MacArthur; some of the speeches delivered by U.S. presidents being in a highly imperial setting, such as…..

-- amid the controversy stirred by such U.S. actions as the invasion of Iraq and the secret military action conducted deep inside Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden, critics saying that the U.S. is acting imperially or that such actions demonstrate the “imperialist agenda” or the “imperialist designs” of the world’s only superpower

-- the sclerotic regimes in Syria and Yemen; the widespread corruption and sclerotic leadership at the helm in several Asian and African nations

-- with reference to the inability of lawmakers in Washington D.C. to reach a compromise on vital issues, this author saying: “The U.S. is suffering from acute political sclerosis

-- responding to calls for more regulation in his industry, a CEO saying “That would be an open invitation to business sclerosis!”

-- then-Prime Minister Tony Blair warning European nations to shed their sclerotic working practices or risk obliteration by China and India

-- a new managers exclaiming in frustration: “This pace is so rigidified, so sclerotic! People are unbelievably content with the way things are.”

-- the sexual assault charges in NY against Dominique Strauss-Kahn derailing the political career of someone who had been widely hailed in France as presidential timber

-- I agree the Joel is a great quarterback, but, unlike you, I do no think he is NFL timber

-- ever since Marilyn joined the company as marketing manager, she’s being talked up as top executive timber

-- I just hope when our highly regarded CEO, Rob, retires in a couple of years, the board of directors can find someone of his timber to run this behemoth of a company

-- Ethan’s recent actions clearly show that he is top leadership timber

-- the way our summer intern Jessica has... successfully handled even some of our most recalcitrant employees proves she is definitely managerial timber

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Inspiring Words As Well as a Reminder from Bob Schieffer For Anyone Aspiring to be a Great Communicator

While delivering an encomium for the late Andy Rooney during last Sunday’s edition of “Face the Nation,” CBS’s Bob Schieffer said something that should touch a nerve in everyone who is striving to be great communicator (and who, by definition, are the target of this blog). He reminded us that the English language is a limitless reservoir which each and every one of us can easily tap into at will, to affect, stir, and touch other people.

The essence of Shieffer’s message is that by using the vast potential of the English language, and by deploying words with vigor and imagination, each of us can harness his or her own potential to become a powerful communicator.

Well worth 22 seconds of your time to watch the video clip below.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Monday, October 31, 2011

Injecting Humor: Conservative George Will’s Memorable Take on Republican Mitt Romney’s Varying Political Stance

Just in case you missed it, here is conservative columnist George Will’s brilliant characterization of Mitt Romney, uttered on “ABC This Week with Christiane Amanpour” two weeks ago (Oct. 16):

“Romney has shown a certain versatility of conviction over the years.”

As you might expect, everyone else seated around the table that morning immediately burst out laughing. You can bet that only someone of Will’s rare intellect can spontaneously conjure up such a compelling and humorously fresh expression.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

The Case of a Dangling Modifier; Egregious Syntax Error by NPR Host Steve Inskeep

While interviewing Dallas businessman Ray Washburne earlier this month, NPR Morning Edition cohost Steve Inskeep put the following question to his guest:

“Let me ask another thing. As a Texan who has been very active in the Republican Party and has raised many hundreds of thousands of dollars, I assume you're acquainted with your governor, Rick Perry?”

Many of my readers will instantly recognize a grammatical blunder in the long second sentence. The opening clause “As a Texan who has…….thousands of dollars” is meant to modify the “you” or the object in that sentence (i.e. guest Washburne) and not the subject “I” because it is not Inskeep who is the Texan and active in the Republican Party. But, because an opening phrase or clause always modifies the subject that immediately follows, the above sentence ends up either confusing the reader or listener or creating unintentional humor. [To check it out for yourself, click here:]

I realize the above is basic grammar, but if the highly experienced and talented Inskeep can make such an egregious error, I suppose so can anyone else if they lower their guard.

BTW, one way to correct the syntax in the above complex sentence would be to rewrite it as follows: “As a Texas who has been very active in…… and thousands of dollars, you’re acquainted with your governor, Rick Perry, I assume?”

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Glaring Mispronunciation of "Contretemps" by Leading Light of the Media Doris Kearns Goodwin

Earlier this week, while reviewing the Sept. 4, 2011, edition of “Meet the Press,” I was stupefied to see best selling author and highly regarded presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin mispronounce the word contretemps as [kon-truh-temps]. (The correct pronunciation is kon-truh-tahN , meaning that the N does not represent a consonant, and the ah is nasalized. Thus, the last syllable here rhymes with the last syllable in words such as bon vivant and rapprochement.) What particularly contributed to my astonishment is the fact that, over the last two or three decades, Ms. Goodwin has been a member of countless radio/television panels, hobnobbing with America’s most articulate.

[BTW, if you wish to check out that Sept. 4 edition of “Meet the Press” to see Ms. Goodwin’s blunder for yourself, click here:
Her use of the word contretemps occurs just after 21 minutes into the clip.]

The most lamentable aspect of the above is the Ms. Goodwin will probably keep mispronouncing this word for years to come: My research indicates that when someone utters a glaring mispronunciation, no friends or acquaintances will point it out to him or her, fearing that the correction will be viewed as an unfriendly, even a hostile act.

Over the past couple of decades, there have been countless occasions when, as a sincere, well-meaning, and helpful gesture, I have informed a stranger--say a host or guest featured on NPR or some other news channel--of their mispronunciation. (Incidentally, I perform this “public service” by means of an extremely polite email or voice mail.) Never have I received so much as an acknowledgment. Weird.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Executive Communication: Rare Lesson in How to Chew Out Someone; How Just a Few Exemplary Nonverbals Can Make Even a Brief Utterance Highly Impactful

Before you watch the video clip below, please revisit the post and clip of a month ago—Sept. 30 -- which shows a top Republican politician’s strong, fresh, and well chosen words of criticism for someone of her own party being completely wasted because of the abysmal delivery.

Now click on the video clip below, which is from the April 4, 2010, edition of “Meet the Press” and shows a Democratic Congresswoman chewing out a top official of the Obama administration over the pathetic economy. The reason why this clip made it to the highly regarded "Meet the Press" broadcast is obvious—Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur’s utterance is so attention-getting, even earth-shaking, and, of course, indelible, thanks to her exemplary nonverbals, ranging from deliberate and forceful hand gestures to pregnant pauses and uncommon vocal variety.

An excellent example of how a brief utterance can become airborne because of powerful delivery. So, executives and managers please note: if somebody deserves to be chewed out during a meeting, do it forcefully, at full-throttle, instead of being wimpy and highly restrained, for that is how you send a message to everyone in the room.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Friday, September 30, 2011

Vocabulary Building Words: New Edition of “Words of the Month”

The latest edition of “Words of the Month,” my free vocabulary enrichment feature, has been online since the middle of this month. The six featured words, all of which lie within the conversational vocabulary of America’s most articulate (as is the case with all of the words featured in my book, “The Articulate Professional-3rd Edition”):

1. schadenfreude
2. infantilize
3. jaundiced
4. mercurial
5. listless
6. apogee

Here are extracts from some of my favorite examples, all carefully designed to help you expand your vocabulary:

-- the extraordinary damage to Rupert Murdoch’s reputation as a result of the phone hacking scandal must have been a source of schadenfreude for millions of people

-- even though Nicole and I are always at loggerheads, I am truly saddened at this career setback she has suffered-- there is absolutely no schadenfreude at my end

-- the smile on my face this morning reflects my plain-for-all-to-see schadenfreude at the news that Jim’s unit is to be shut down.

-- during a speech at his Toastmasters club “Park Ten Talkers,” this author saying: the usage of the word schadenfreude, which was rarely spoken until the late 1990s, has increased dramatically

-- before I move to the next item on the agenda, here is some schadenfreude for you all: I’ve just been informed that …

-- a 2011 calendar from AXA Advisors has to be the most ridiculous I have ever received… here are three examples of the infantilizing pictures in it: a gleaming SUV with the name “Singal Edition,”…

-- nobody with 25 neurons in their brain will accept such an infantile explanation

-- one aspect of the Matthew Algeo interview that I resented was host Steve Inskeep’s infantilization of the author and thus us listeners as well

-- to accelerate your employees’ growth, cut down on the spoon-feeding--don’t infantilize them

-- in hotly contested elections, the intensity of the conflict sometimes infantilizing them, with each opponent stooping to name-calling

-- the infantile humor in some sitcoms; their exchange of insults sinking to infantile levels

-- several million more Americans are now looking at the Tea Party with a jaundiced eye

-- she has created quite a stir because of the jaundiced eye she cast upon the sales staff

-- the debt ceiling showdown in Congress has further jaundiced my view of that supposedly august institution

-- both warring nations inject falsehoods in textbooks to present their children with a jaundiced view of history

-- the Oscar-winning movie “Crash” is a realistic portrayal of a how a person’s jaundiced viewpoint about people from other races and cultures….

-- in the days following the S&P downgrade of U.S. credit rating, the Dow Jones was at its most mercurial in recent years

-- such mercurial actions do not bespeak of great leadership

-- she is one of our smartest employees; the problem is her output: it’s mercurial!

-- mercurial personality; mercurial temperament; mercurial nature; mercurial moods

-- George H.W. Bush discovering how mercurial a U.S. president’s popularity can be

-- he barely uttered a word during the entire meeting—he just sat sort of listlessly at the far end of the table

-- even when there is some really big news about a family member, my 92-year-old mother reacts listlessly

-- while presenting his nationally popular topic “Some Simple Verbal and Nonverbal Skills for Creating a Highly Favorable First Impression,” this author demonstrating the “three-pump-handshake” which engenders a far better impression than a handshake that is limp or listless

-- a highly favored team playing listlessly and going down in defeat to a mediocre group of rookies

-- a listless presentation or speech; somebody’s listless attitude or mood

-- images of flooded towns having a far lower “shock value” and therefore generating a listless response (by way of contributions) than pictures of earthquake stricken homes and buildings

-- the concentration of new wealth, which reached a peak just before the Great Depression, is at an apogee once again

-- if only more politicians could resist temptation and leave office at the apogee of their fame and reputation, as did President Nelson Mandela

-- a cosmetics line that is past its apogee; the Byzantine Empire reaching its apogee during the rule of Justinian

-- millions of innocent Soviet citizens being banished to labor camps during the 1930s—the apogee of Joseph Stalin’s three-decade-long reign of terror

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Public Speaking Tips: Strong, Evocative Words Are Often Wasted If Not Accompanied By Appropriate Nonverbals

When trying to influence an audience, the use of two or three fresh, strong, evocative, and out-of-the-ordinary words uttered back-to-back can be extremely effective (especially if the audience is familiar with the terms). Why? Because such an expression works like a one-two or a one-two-three punch. But much too often, public speakers fail to get the full mileage from their well chosen words because they are uttered blandly or very rapidly, unaccompanied by appropriate nonverbals. This is something I emphasize again and again while coaching executives, managers, and other professionals who have to make important presentations.

Take a look at the video clip below, featuring former Missouri Republican Party Chair Ann Wagner lambasting the then-party leader Michael Steele. Imagine how much more powerful, and searing, and impactful her remarks would have been had she uttered her carefully chosen words “steeped in mismanagement, distractions, and drama” (you can tell she is glancing at her notes as she utters them) with some pizzazz. For instance, a split-second pause after each of the three nouns (mismanagement, distractions, drama) would have allowed those words to sink in fully. And the injection of vocal variety as well as some facial and/or hand gestures would have endowed her words with much additional weight. Summing up, she could have easily accentuated that key sentence immeasurably.

An excellent example of a well crafted and potentially indelible expression coming to naught thanks to too rapid-fire an utterance. © Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

How to Conquer a Verbal Tic, Such as the One Afflicting Mr. “Correct”

As mentioned in previous posts, the No. 1 reason why people do not expunge such an affliction from their system is that they do not even realize they are suffering from one. I bet Pete, the person who inspired the previous post, has no idea how tedious and irritating it is for a listener to put up with his unceasing use of the word “correct” (and unfailingly uttered with the same tonality) when responding to any question in the affirmative.

Two step solution.
Step 1: If you are trying to become a better communicator, especially one who is more pleasing to listen to, the first step is to occasionally ask a fellow employee or a family member to listen in to your phone or other conversations--at random and without giving you advance notice--and provide you with some feedback. Short of recording your conversations, asking others for a critique is probably the easiest and quickest way to determine if you have the case of a verbal virus of any sort.

Step 2: Once you’ve become aware of your disfluency (be it ahs and ums, you knows, constant use of redundant words such as basically and essentially, etc.), the next step is to make a conscious effort to rid yourself of those pesky utterances. For instance, put conspicuous reminders next to your telephone and on the office wall. Joining a Toastmasters club can be very helpful. BTW, another annoying verbal problem, and one that I find even in some well known talking heads, is the repetition of words in the middle of a sentence. Here is an example: “I have no doubt we will succeed if we continue to work hard and- and- and our budget does not get cut any further.”

For regular presenters, finding out whether your speech contains verbal tics is easy: before you begin, discreetly request one or two people in the audience to provide you with some feedback at the end.

© Copyright 2011 V.J. Singal

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Another Recent Case of Verbal Virus -- Meet Mr. "Correct"

In the past, I’ve written about people who suffer from such disfluencies as beginning almost every sentence they utter with the word “actually,” “basically,” and so on.

Well, the other day, I got a phone call from a young manager, probably in this mid-thirties, well educated and extremely intelligent, who was looking for an executive coach in connection with a presentation he was to make to a large audience. During that half-hour conversation, I noticed he had one glaring shortcoming: every question I put to him was answered with the word “correct” (that is, if he was replying in the affirmative). A couple of days later, we had a face-to-face get acquainted meeting—an opportunity I offer to every potential client located in the Greater Houston area. One of the many things I wanted to observe in this meeting, which was at a Starbucks, was whether the spate of “corrects” during the previous phone conversation was a result of his having a bad day or whether it was a pathological affliction. Well, this exec, let’s just call him John, did not disappoint. During the 45-minute conversation, I must have asked him dozens of questions relating to his background, his career aspirations, his present job, etc., most of which he replied in the affirmative and each time that was the case, the response was “correct.”

Not only is such an affliction extremely irritating to the listener, it also limits the speaker’s quality of expression. Imagine the vocal variety, varied facial expression, and other nonverbals he could have employed had he answered my questions with such alternative responses as: yes or yeah; absolutely; that’s right; sure thing; and of course, correct.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

High-Impact Public Speaking; Using a Pregnant Pause for Accentuating a Word or Sentence

Watch the video clip below. Notice how the speaker, Sen. Mitch McConnell, after stating what action he wants his party members to undertake, makes a long, deliberate pause (i.e., a pregnant pause) to give emphasis to the word that is about to follow--“first.” Placing a pregnant pause just before the last word in a sentence is not an everyday occurrence, which is why I felt this clip to be worthy of being featured in my blog. Usually, speakers use a pregnant pause just before or after making an important statement (to let the words sink in), or between the asking of a rhetorical question and delivering the answer. What makes this particular illustration of a pregnant pause all the more remarkable is that its positioning in the sentence helps compensate for the speaker’s monotone, non-table pounding voice and bland facial expression. It enables him to sharply underline what according to him is the #1 priority for his party. An extraordinary bit of public speaking.

Important note: Please do not mistake this post to be an endorsement of Sen. McConnell or his agenda.
© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Creating a Favorable Impression: A Dash of Color Will Go a Long Way, Says New Study

These may well be “ultra-modern” times, the age of millenarians, but people still seem to judge a book by its cover! In other words, when it comes to forming a first impression of a published work, society is as unsophisticated as, say, when books appeared for the first time.

Definitive proof that this atavistic impulse still reigns was provided by a piece aired on American Public Media’s “Marketplace” Monday before last (Aug. 22). According to a new study by the University of Miami’s business school, beautifying a company’s annual report by adding just one color can have the same impact on people’s perception of a company’s value as a 20% increase in revenue!

I believe the above has major implications for all manner of day-to-day activity, ranging from selecting attire--instead of a monochrome outfit, how about a dash of color--to selecting the cover for a report or proposal you are about to present to a client.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Speaking Concisely—Rather, How to Compel the Long-winded or the Verbose to Communicate Concisely

Once in a while, somebody who is often required to chair meetings will confide in me that one of his/ her biggest obstacles when trying to run a meeting efficiently (and thus stay within the allotted time) is having one or more participants who talk on and on—people who are so verbose or long-winded that, for instance, they will take several sentences to respond to a simple question that can easily be answered in a single, short sentence.

While there are several ways to rein in someone who has a proclivity to ramble or perorate at every opportunity, here is a simple technique to force a relatively quick response to a question: Look at your watch—as if to imply that you are running out of time--and simultaneously preface your question with something like, ‘Pat, in one sentence, what would you say is the main reason for.....?’” You could go a step further and, instead of “in one sentence…,” you could say, with a smile, “in half a sentence…”

Call me at 281-463-2500 or email me if you have successfully tried some other techniques to help engender concise communication in your workplace.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Monday, August 29, 2011

Glaring Mispronunciations by Top Media Personalities

Two glaring cases of mispronunciation by leading lights in the media this month, one involving a relatively common word “harbinger.”

1. In his fascinating piece about New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan on “60 Minutes” Sunday before last, Morly Safer described the corpulent personage as “this burly, overweight, cherubic Irish American charges through life like a holy bulldozer…” It was the word cherubic where Safer slipped up, pronouncing it as [che-RUB-ik] instead of [chuh-ROOB-ik.] Apparently, he thought the pronunciation of cherubic is a direct extension of the word “cherub” which is pronounced [cher-ub.]

2. The second instance involved American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein—a guest on all manner of radio and TV channels because of his unmatched knowledge and understanding of what’s going on in Congress. About five minutes into the August 10 edition of “The Diane Rehm Show,” while using the word harbinger, he made the fairly common error of pronouncing it as [hahr-bin-ger] instead of [hahr-bin-jur]. This one left me stupefied, considering that because of his decades-long career and popularity, Ornstein has appeared on countless panels, often surrounded by America’s most articulate.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vocabulary Building Words: New Edition of “Words of the Month”

The latest edition of “Words of the Month,” my free vocabulary enrichment feature, has been online since the middle of this month. The six featured words, all of which lie within the conversational vocabulary of America’s most articulate (as is the case with all of the words featured in my book, “The Articulate Professional-3rd Edition”):

1. perorate
2. servile
3. solicitude
4. amalgamate
5. hyperventilate
6. neophyte

Here are extracts from some of my favorite examples conscientiously designed to help enhance your vocabulary:

-- does anyone ever mention a single word or idea uttered by Sen. Edward Everett, the main speaker at the 19 November, 1863, Gettysburg dedication ceremony, who perorated for nearly two hours....

-- tomorrow’s annual meeting promises to be different: it’s not going to be some insufferable peroration

-- from an irritated person in the audience: “Please, my question does not call for a peroration. Just a simple…”

-- here is a simple technique to get a quick answer from someone who has a propensity to ramble or perorate at every opportunity…..

-- over the past 20 years, our State of the Union addresses having become unending and wearisome perorations; in the bitter fight over abortion, those for freedom of choice perorating against pro-lifers, and vice versa

-- during confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate for Supreme Court nominees, senators tending to perorate on one legal issue or the other instead of …..

-- some frustrated young workers in a Chinese city secretly telling Western interviewers about their servile employment

-- in the presence of his boss, he becomes so timid and submissive, even servile, that he’s barely audible

-- fawning officials bowing deeply, in a servile manner, when opening doors or….

-- do not behave obsequiously, and act like someone who is hopelessly servile

-- (if George W. Bush had been a very popular president during his last few years) current Republican presidential candidates would be trekking servilely to Dallas to …

-- a mule’s servility to his master…; successful CEOs surrounding themselves with smart people rather than servile employees; a bigwig who likes servile attention

-- in some cultures, a woman being required to show servile obedience to her husband

-- Amnesty International expressing solicitude for Saudi women (reference that nation’s laws barring females from driving)

-- our manager has consistently demonstrated solicitude for our health

-- my mother was applying, with tremendous solicitude, cold compresses on my forehead

-- if I see a stray dog on the street, my reaction is one of utmost solicitude for that…; she always showed great solicitude for my difficulties

-- a parent expressing so much solicitude for their teenager who has just gone to college that it borders on the overbearing and suffocating

-- the U.S., a melting pot because of the racial, ethnic, and cultural amalgamation that is constantly going on…

-- amalgamating three new parameters into the customer satisfaction index

-- he is a curious amalgam of contradictory and conflicting characteristics…; the food here is an amalgam of different cuisines from….; typical opera being an amalgam of singing, dancing, glittering sets….; the novel's hero is the amalgam of several remarkable people the author has met….

-- stock symbol HPQ appropriately representing the amalgamation of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq

-- the latest Harry Potter movie being praised as a wonderful amalgam of superb acting, gripping story, wall-to-wall action,….

-- France’s long-cherished goal of becoming a truly amalgamated nation

-- there’s no way you can effectively amalgamate these two subsidiaries because…

-- should these news reports really set off such hyperventilation throughout the nation?

-- on seeing their company’s founder and CEO up close for the first time, some of the employees began to hyperventilate

-- I’m hearing a lot of hyperventilated comments from employees about…

-- let me quickly call my boss….before he has a panic attack and starts to hyperventilate

-- dismissing a recent medical study, an expert saying: “the report is hyperventilating about small, inconsequential….”

-- following the release of the movie “Titanic,” teenaged girls swooning and hyperventilating if they saw Leonardo DiCaprio in public

-- some newspaper art, music, and theater reviews that are written in a hyperventilated style, packing language that is turgid, pompous, and bombastic

-- a travel website pointing out, justly, that guide books are “renowned for their glib hyperventilated prose”

-- a political neophyte; a neophyte at poker; neophyte investors falling victim to boiler-room stockbrokers

-- I agree that Diane is a marketing neophyte… but she is extremely smart and a quick study

-- being an absolute neophyte at trading when I was hired in your department, I was intimidated….

-- discouraging somebody from trying a blue run, the ski guide saying: “It’s not for the neophyte

-- a presenter pausing to explain some of the jargon for the benefit of the neophytes in the audience

-- a computer manufacturer’s customer service department finding itself shorthanded because of the surprisingly high percentage of calls coming in from total neophytes

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

High Impact Presentations; Overcoming the Accent Handicap: Other Easy Strategies and Tactics for Foreign-borns

Yesterday’s post focused on one of the tactics I use in the case of words that are extremely relevant to my presentations but which are sometimes misunderstood or are unintelligible to some in the audience because of my enunciation (words such as “thrust”).

Of course, as discussed in previous blog posts, foreign-borns have several other strategies and tactics in their arsenal to minimize the loss of communication that can result because of an accent. Some of these preemptive actions:

1. Speaking slower, especially at the beginning of a conversation or presentation.
2. Clearly enunciating every syllable and consonant because that is unquestionably the most effective antidote to an accent.
3. Maintaining a list of “troublesome” words—words that pose difficulty for your audiences because of the way you pronounce them—and developing a corresponding list of alternate words. [For instance, a few years ago, when I found people were having difficulty with my enunciation of “burp,” I immediately switched to saying “belch” instead.]
4. As another alternative to dealing with your list of “troublesome” words, especially while delivering presentations, having that word appear in print on a PowerPoint slide just as you are about to utter it in front of that audience for the first time.
5. Each time you say a word that you believe may not be fully understood by everyone in the audience, immediately following-up with a synonym or synonymous phrase.

For a fuller discussion of the above five tips, I would urge you to visit my blog post of June 24, 2010.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Saturday, July 30, 2011

For the Foreign-borns: Spelling Out a Word as a Tactic to Offset Loss of Communication Because of Accent

If you speak with an accent, as I do, chances are that some of the words you typically use in a presentation are unintelligible to many in the audience. For instance, when talking about the power of the synonym technique, I love to use the word “thrust” because it is so very apt (it’ll be clear why after you’ve read the next paragraph). Unfortunately, some in the audience mistake my “thrust” to be “trust” and, not surprisingly, become confused. So, what is the one easy tactic I employ to offset that bit of loss in communication? I simply spell out the word immediately after uttering it. I elaborate below.

Earlier this year, while speaking before large audiences at dental conventions in Phoenix and Portland (Oregon), I said “thrust” at least once in each session, and the first time I used that word before each audience, I followed up that utterance by hurriedly spelling it out as well, thus ensuring 100% understanding by everyone in the room. To go into even more detail, here is an example of what I said: “…..synonyms work powerfully because the second word amplifies or reinforces the previous word’s thrust—as in t-h-r-u-s-t—and thus makes that piece of communication much more robust, indelible, and impactful….” [In the previous sentence, I have bolded thrust to imply that it was uttered with greater emphasis and amplitude than the subsequent “as in t-h-r-u-s-t.”]

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Visual, Evocative Words to Emphasize Something: Grover Norquist’s Messianic Anti-Government Agenda

Whether you are a supporter or a critic of anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, you’ll probably agree with the following statement: Norquist’s agenda is simply to gut the government, period. (It’s an agenda which, in my view, is utterly misguided, myopic, and reprehensible because, over the long term, a marketplace with zero regulation will severely undermine, among other things, the quality of life and safety of the American middleclass and prove ruinous for this nation’s international economic competitiveness as well as for its environment and wildlife.)

But it was only this evening, while watching “NBC Nightly News,” that I learned about the extraordinarily evocative terms in which Norquist has articulated his messianic and unambiguous anti-government fervor in the past: According to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Norquist once told NPR: “I don’t want to abolish government, I simply want to reduce the size where I can drag it to the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Words to Describe the Grand Canyon: Going Beyond the Trite and the Banal

Ask anyone who has visited the Grand Canyon what they think about that great natural wonder of the world and, more often that not, his or her face will instantly light up and adjectives such as beautiful, awesome, great, extraordinary, wonderful, tremendous… will come out of that person’s mouth.

Well, I was at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim earlier this month and it occurred to me that you might be interested to know some of the words that flashed in my mind while undertaking three hikes during the day and a half I spent there in the company of my son. [As in the case of previous posts, I am assuming that you appreciate the power of words that are fresh, out-of-the ordinary, and evocative.] Rest assured, each of the terms below is in the conversational vocabulary of articulate Americans.

-- addictive (because one can’t get tired of taking in the sights)
-- stupefying
-- overwhelming
-- mesmerizing
-- spellbinding
-- stunning
-- a prodigious sight
-- indescribable
-- enthralling
-- ineffable
-- spectacular
-- ethereal
-- captivating
-- kaleidoscopic
-- spiritual, emotional, or a religious experience

And finally, in response to a question that I had had for over ten years -- “For most people, why does the Grand Canyon have a greater impact than any other natural feature on earth?” – I had the following epiphany in the late 1990s, just after a visit to the North Rim: “Looking down intently into that vast chasm of overpowering beauty and mystery, you get the sense that Mother Earth has opened her bosom and is whispering: 'Come, peer into me for this is where you are from.'

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

The King James Bible: Source of Many of Today’s Phrases and Idiomatic Expressions

Earlier this week, while watching a segment about the King James Bible in the April 24, 2011, edition of “CBS Sunday Morning,” my favorite television program, I was surprised to learn that many of the phrases and idiomatic expressions that are alive and well in the English language of today originated in that seminal work. Here are some that were highlighted in that CBS program:

“…drop in the bucket…” – Isaiah 40:15

“…my cup runneth over” – Psalms 23:5

“…see eye to eye…” – Isaiah 52:8

“Fight the good fight…” – First Timothy 6:12

“…powers that be…” – Romans 13:11

“…root of the matter…” – Job 19:28

“…labour of love…” – Hebrews 6:10

“…there’s nothing new under the sun…” – Ecclesiastes 1:09

“…in the twinkling of an eye…” – Corinthians 15:52

“…pearls before swine…” – Matthews 7:6

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Building a Powerful 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 the beginning of this month. Among the featured words, all of which lie within the conversational vocabulary of America’s most articulate (as is the case with all of the words featured in my book "The Articulate Professional -- 3rd Edition"):

1. statuesque
2. kaleidoscopic
3. paucity
4. wistful
5. attenuate

Here are extracts from some of my favorite examples:

-- a statuesque building in Houston: the 901-feet tall Williams Tower (formerly the Transco Tower)

-- in this picture showing our company’s top five execs, each of them looks statuesquely tall, and I suppose that is because of …

-- a dancer posing statuesquely; an example of a statuesque American actress: the six-feet tall…

-- given the kaleidoscope of shifting information, it’s hard to predict where the hurricane will make landfall

-- last night’s “Charlie Rose” was a kaleidoscope of currently controversial issues

-- kaleidoscopic fall colors; a folk dance becoming a kaleidoscope of colors

-- John Eliot Gardiner saying: “Beethoven’s music is so full of rhythm, and excitement, and kaleidoscopic changes of emotion

-- the fate of the first President Bush being a perfect example of the voting public’s capriciousness

-- I am pretty capricious when it comes to picking a route to go to work each morning

-- a capricious theater critic; a special attraction of the Seychelles—they are less prone to capricious weather

-- having wistful moments when you wish you had accepted that offer from IBM instead of…

-- I try to avoid thinking or speaking wistfully of the past because life is short and…

-- I kept staring at her because there was such an air of wistfulness about her

-- South Koreans musing wistfully that the two Koreas show no sign of unifying; the wistfulness in Boris Yeltsin’s comments made shortly after the failed Soviet coup

-- it appears that Osama bin Laden’s influence had not attenuated quite as much as….

-- frequent coffee breaks will attenuate the momentum (of the discussion)

-- attenuation of a manager’s autocratic style; hot peppers can attenuate hunger because they contain..; a vaccine that will attenuate the AIDS virus; the attenuated physique of an anorexic; gravel traps being used to attenuate the speed of a car

-- the vast wetlands surrounding New Orleans helping attenuate the destructive force of hurricanes

-- a paucity of strong leadership at the top; a disheartening paucity of creative thinking; blaming the setback on a paucity of knowledge and experience

-- an amazing paucity of information with regard to prevention of cancer

-- apparel shoppers disappointed by the paucity of exciting new designs; parents of school-age children complaining about the paucity of worthwhile programs on television

-- Japan being one of the world’s top five industrial powers despite its paucity of natural resources

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What’s in a Name? Pronouncing Somebody’s Uncommon Name Correctly Is Your First Sign of Respect For That Person Plus Much More

The “name-botching” incident at Wimbledon last week when, in the middle of the match, German tennis star Julia Goerges lambasted the umpire for repeatedly mangling her last name, reminded me of an incident at a Toastmasters’ speech contest here in Houston some ten years ago. Hugh Vrsalovic, an accomplished speaker and my long-time friend, was one of the participants. When it was his turn to deliver a speech, here’s how the evening’s emcee (referred to as the “Toastmaster of the contest or event”) announced his name: “Our next contestant is Hugh V…R…S…” and then, after some further struggle, she came up with a badly mangled version of Hugh’s last name which, in actuality, takes only a few seconds to master, if you ask him. It is vruh-SAHL-uh-vik.]

Clearly, the contest Toastmaster had not done her homework. As any responsible emcee, she should have taken a few moments to familiarize herself with the names, speech titles, etc. before the event started. Sure, her blunder may have helped wipe off, for a second or two, the ever-pleasant expression on Hugh’s face, but the real damage was to her own reputation. She created a poor impression with that evening’s huge audience by demonstrating irresponsibility and a cavalier attitude.

If a new acquaintance’s name happens to be an uncommon one, then pronouncing it correctly (the same goes for spelling it, if and when writing them an email) is your first indication of respect for that person, provided you’ve had an opportunity to find out the correct pronunciation. It helps create a good first impression by signaling that you are meticulous, thorough, caring, thoughtful, urbane, and so on.

INTERVIEW CANDIDATES, please make a special note of the above.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Monday, May 30, 2011

Interviewing; ABC’s “This Week” Panel Highlights Two Key Ingredients for a Successful Job Interview

Enthusiasm! As I’ve said in previous posts, a candidate's enthusiasm is the one quality that must be on full display during job interviews and the like. Here are two specific ideas on how or where to exhibit enthusiasm.

Yesterday’s edition of ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” had a segment focusing on the dim job prospects for the Class of 2011 and what job seekers can and should do to stand out from the crowd. The panel comprised four newly minted grads and two “entrepreneur CEOs”–famous publisher Mort Zukerman and Qwiki founder Doug Imbruce. When asked, each of the two CEOs identified one quality or attribute that he looks for in job candidates as a predictor of future success:

Zukerman: “Evidence of determination.”
Imbruce: “Passion about the company’s products or services.”

LESSON: Sharpen your communication skills—both verbal and nonverbal—so that your enthusiasm, vigor, motivation, staunchness, unwavering or unyielding nature, unflagging zeal for work, etc. are manifest during the interview.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Appearance on Houston’s Channel 39 (KIAH-TV) Earlier This Month; The Consequences of Egregiously Bad Grammar During Job Interview

In a post three weeks ago, I wrote that Houston’s Channel 39 had interviewed me with regard to how poor language skills can obliterate one’s chances of success during a job interview or sales call. Well, the station did broadcast segments of that interview a few days later and you can see what they aired by clicking on the one-and-a-half-minute video clip below. Of particular interest to job seekers: My comment on how the use of typical text-messaging lingo during an interview might portray you as someone who is much too cavalier or irresponsible to handle serious tasks and who therefore cannot be entrusted with big-time responsibility.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Obama’s “synaptic misfire” resulting in his using a completely wrong word during “60 Minutes” Interview; My Answer to Last Sunday’s Quick Quiz

To make sense of this post, you need to first read the previous one – that of last Sunday, May 15.

In my judgment, the only word that sounds similar to the wrong word (denigrate) and which would have accurately expressed what Obama was trying to say is degrade. [The word downgrade is an alternative but a poor one.] In other words, he meant to say “We’ve degraded al Qaeda significantly even before we got bin Laden and I think….”

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Quick Quiz: Guess Which Word the "60 Minutes" Guest Had in Mind When He Misspoke and Uttered "Denigrate"; Case of "Synaptic Misfire"

At one point during his “60 Minutes” interview Sunday, President Obama was asked to respond to the many “influential people on both sides of the aisle” in Congress who were saying that with Osama bin Laden now dead, we should hasten our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Obama replied by pointing out that the U.S. had increased troop levels in Afghanistan to “blunt the momentum of the Taliban and create platforms that would allow us to go after al Qaeda directly.” He then added, “We’ve denigrated al Qaeda significantly even before we got bin Laden and I think it’s important for everybody to understand that the work that’s been done in Afghanistan helped to prepare us for being able to take bin Laden out……”

Clearly, the word denigrate does not fit into the context at all. See for yourself by playing the video clip below. In fact, as soon as I heard this sentence while playing the recording on my DVR, it was apparent to me that Obama, whose command of the language is stellar, meant to utter a similar-sounding word which has a completely different meaning and that he had fallen victim to what I call “synaptic misfire” or a “synaptic malfunction” – something that happens once in a while to even the best of us.

As an intellectual challenge, I urge you to try and guess the similar sounding word which would have correctly expressed Obama's thought and which would fit into the context perfectly. Feel free to email me or call me at 281-463-2500. My next post—about a week from now—will have the answer to this "quick quiz."

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Consequences of Grossly Abusing Grammar During a Job interview or While Talking to a Client or Customer

This morning, I was interviewed by award-winning journalist David Solano for his upcoming story on how extremely poor language skills can sharply diminish one’s chances of success during a jon interview or sales call. [The story is to be aired early next week on Solana’s station KIAH-TV -- Houston’s Channel 39.]

Here is what I said with regard to the severe consequences stemming from egregious grammar errors:

During a job interview or while making a sales call, murdering grammar can be lethal! [Some examples of outrageous grammatical errors: subject-verb disagreement; using first person subject pronoun “I” when it should be object pronoun “me” and the vice versa; wrong tense or wrong verb form; uttering "aks" instead of "ask."] Among the many reasons why such gross abuses of grammar can sharply diminish your prospects of being hired or of consummating a sale:

1. Unless the listener is intimately familiar with your educational background and the many college degrees you have amassed, he or she will conclude that you are poorly educated.

2. You will give the impression of being a slow, unenthusiastic learner--someone who will have difficulty quickly adapting to a potential employer's workplace culture or way of doing things.

3. As a potential employee, you will be viewed as more of a liability than an asset because:
(i) Your conspicuous grammar missteps are likely to be such a serious distraction--even an annoyance--that listeners will be unable to stay focused on your message, and
(ii) You could even end up becoming a laughing stock among not only your would-be peers but also among clients, thus severely tarnishing the company's image.

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Uninspiring Female Attire: Example of a Highly Intelligent PR Exec Looking Boring and Unimaginative

Click on the video clip below, a 34-second excerpt from last Sunday’s “ABC This Week with Christiane Amanpour.” You’ll see Torie Clarke, Pentagon’s top PR executive during Donald Rumsfeld’s rule, wearing clothes that are uniformly of one color--a color that happens to be identical to the color of her hair and eyebrows. And further, because the color of her hair is not much different to her complexion, we see a woman looking monochromatic--a vision of one color from top to bottom! I was amazed to see this highly intelligent and super-sharp communicator show up on a major Sunday morning television show in such a boring, unappealing, and unimaginative attire.

What could Torie Clarke have done differently to look more appealing and attractive, at the very minimum? No fashionista I, but two simple alternatives immediately come to mind: She could have worn, for instance, a blue dress (which incidentally would match the color of her eyes) or worn something in, say, maroon, rust, or peach and put on lipstick of a near matching shade for a nice balance. Easy!

© Copyright 2011 V.J. Singal

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Immortal Speeches

Reference President Reagan’s famous speech delivered on June 12, 1987, from West Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. In my post of January 28, I described that speech as being a first-rate example of a presentation that has become immortal because of a simple line within it having such acute resonance that the words reverberate even today, decades later. Finally, I have a video clip of that line, unquestionably the most famous words uttered publicly by Reagan during his eight years as president. Incidentally, this clip too is from CBS "Sunday Morning," my favorite television show.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Building a Powerful 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 the beginning of this month. Among the featured words, all of which lie within the conversational vocabulary of America’s most articulate (as is the case with all of the words featured in my book, “The Articulate Professional-3rd Edition”):

1. pecuniary
2. kerfuffle
3. tendentious
4. acolyte
5. duplicitous
6. impassioned

Here are extracts from some of my favorite examples, all carefully designed to help you implant the featured word into your conversational vocabulary and use it with confidence:


-- after the Tucson shootings, Sheriff Dupnik saying that much of the (political) venom being spouted on radio & TV arises from talk show hosts’ pecuniary motives

-- don’t park here—it’s a pecuniary offense; a lawyer being reprimanded by the judge for “putting his pecuniary interests above those of his client”

-- global warming will be less of an abstraction if we can explain to John Q. Public what sort of pecuniary effects it is having or will have on each individual

-- an NPR guest pointing out that in the case of poets, their pursuit does not arise out of a pecuniary goal


-- the current kerfuffle in Washington D.C. over how to rein in the budget deficits

-- the proposal to reduce the football team’s budget causing such a kerfuffle that the idea was quickly dropped

-- (after two longtime members suddenly opposed everyone else’s unanimous choice for club president) “I tell you, the resulting kerfuffle has badly upset the harmony within the club”


-- “No way can you call this book objective. It is highly tendentious.

-- some radio and TV channels that are clearly tendentious, thus giving their audience a distorted and unbalanced perspective

-- the tendentiousness that invariably creeps into the “historical account” of any great battle because….

-- after looking at identical data, many leading economists and lawmakers coming up with totally different conclusions, thanks to their tendentious interpretation of the facts

-- somebody promoting a tendentious theory; a tendentious translation of an ancient scripture; a tendentious history


-- according to CBS, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s acolytes include “geek circles and hacking circles for whom he is a hero”

-- this author telling an audience: “I am a fervent acolyte of two television shows: ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ and ‘PBS NewsHour’”

-- in a recent interview, Donald Rumsfeld telling Diane Sawyer that the younger Bush appointed him defense secretary knowing full well that he (Rumsfeld) was a critic and detractor rather than an acolyte of George H.W. Bush


-- Tab Hunter, the young matinee idol of the 1950s, telling CBS that he had been duplicitous all along—that the portrayal of him as an eligible heartthrob…

-- somebody who is extremely straightforward and simply incapable of duplicity;  her snickering about my plans is really duplicitous of her because…

-- according to some leading economists, including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the errors in judgment and duplicities of the credit rating agencies partly to blame for the recent financial crisis

-- New York’s then-attorney general Eliot Spitzer discovering that Wall Street analysts were engaging in stunningly duplicitous behavior


-- one of JFK’s most memorable and impassioned lines from his presidential speeches: “Ask not what your country can do for you….”

-- I bet we’ll get an impassioned, table-pounding speech from …; he is one heck of an impassioned and articulate guy

-- an impassioned email;  impassioned support from a top exec giving a boost to your controversial plan; a defense attorney’s impassioned closing arguments; Julia Roberts’s impassioned plea before Congress for …; media being flooded with impassioned statements both in support of and against a U.S. Supreme Court nominee

© Copyright 2011  V. J. Singal

Monday, March 28, 2011

Beware of Donning Badly Soiled Neckties—They Ooze Ugliness; Video Clip of a Highly Regarded Talking Head Wearing One

In yesterday’s post, I wrote that is not uncommon to see even men of prominence wear badly soiled neckties – ties that have acquired a clearly visible dark and ugly hue around the knot because of the wearer constantly tying and untying them with unclean hands.

Well, to see a video clip of a glaringly soiled necktie, click here. It will transport you to a recent appearance by the Kauffman Foundation’s Tim Kane on PBS’s highly regarded “Nightly Business Report.” Incidentally, Tim Kane is someone whose commentaries I always look forward to because they are so pithy.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

“Oh, Please Don’t Touch The Tie! Just Tell Me What’s Wrong.” – The Problem of Soiled Ties

Last October, just as I was getting ready to be introduced before my presentation on “Simple Verbal & Nonverbal Skills for Creating a Highly Favorable First Impression” at the Project Management Institute’s Global Congress 2010 North America held in National Harbor, Md., I quietly asked a woman seated in the front row whether my hair looked combed and whether the tie and shirt collar were in alignment. [During the previous 15 minutes or so, I had been struggling with some of the equipment in the room.] Apparently, everything was not okay with the way I looked because this person raised her hands with alacrity to center my tie, at which point I instantly recoiled and blurted out “Oh, please don’t touch the tie!”

Since there wasn’t sufficient time for me to run to the men’s room and fine tune my attire, I quickly took out a clean handkerchief, placed it on the knot of the tie, and said to that helpful woman, “OK, now go ahead and straighten it,” thus ensuring that she wouldn’t be touching the knot with her bare hands. And while she was engaged in all that manipulation, I politely explained to her and to the couple of others looking on in bemusement that one should never ever touch a tie, especially the length that goes into the making of the knot, unless one’s hands have been freshly washed. Why? Because each time you tie a knot with even mildly unclean hands, the natural oils and any dirt on the fingers leave a stain on the tie—a stain that is, of course, indiscernible at first but which, with repeated tying of the knot with oily or dirty hands, will develop into a dark and ugly patch.

Indeed, it is not uncommon to see men who are in high positions and frequently grace television don ties that are clearly soiled around the knot. See video link in next blog post. [BTW, if you have not noticed anyone wearing soiled ties so far, you certainly will after reading this blog post.]

Solution. So, what is a man to do? Because ties don’t take kindly to dry cleaning, and since there are supposedly only a handful of highly reliable dry cleaners in the nation when it comes to ties, here is my two-part solution, something that I have been practicing for over 15 years: First, just before putting on a tie, wash your hands with soap and water and then dry them thoroughly. Second, when untying the knot, simply use a fresh, clean tissue or something equivalent as a membrane between your fingers and the tie. This will obviate the need to wash and dry your hands when removing a tie.

Let me know if you have a better idea.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Weak Presentations: Poor Use of the Eyes When Emphasizing Something

One of the pointers under my “Uncommon Tips for Highly Effective Presentations,” (click here and then read the second bullet), which has been on my website for several years, urges presenters to beware of what I call “misplaced eye emphasis.”

The 19-second video clip below--excerpted from "NBC Nightly News" last week--is an example of what I mean. While making the headline grabbing announcement that Hispanics now account for more than half of the total growth in the U.S. population, Census Bureau spokesperson Nicholas Jones utters the following words in the second half of the featured sentence: “…and people of Hispanic origin now clearly represent the second largest group in the country.” Hence the following question for you: Which is the most significant part of his utterance?

Clearly, it's the words “the second largest group in the country.” Yet, the spokesman is looking at his notes when uttering those words; he was looking at the audience when saying the preceding words (“People of Hispanic origin”) which needed no emphasis since that entire presentation was about Hispanics! Note that if Jones had been looking at the audience while saying the key words, he could have used not only his eyes but other facial gestures for added emphasis.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Interviewers Forgetting a Cardinal Rule: Never Ever Have One of Your Palms Cradle The Jaw While Speaking

I would perhaps be insulting you if I were to make the following most basic, most obvious, most rudimentary statement: To ensure that your speech is perfectly clear and 100% intelligble, never ever rest your jaw in the palm of your hand while speaking because the hand will work like a straightjacket and affect your enunciation.

Yet, time and again, I see television interviewers lower their guard and suddenly have a hand cradling the jaw, as long-time PBS interviewer Evan Smith did just a few minutes ago in a program aired on Houston's Channel 8 from 11:00 to 11:30 p.m. this evening. And guess what! The moment he let his jaw rest on one of his hands--and this happened toward the fag end of the interview--some of his words immediately became unintelligble. Amazing! You'd think these highly experienced interviewers would know better.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Sense of Achievement Each of Us Can Derive By Using Language Imaginatively; Steve Martin’s Spot-On Comment

Since many of my readers value the power of thoughtful, vivid expression, I believe the following response from Steve Martin will greatly resonate with them:

Discussing his recent novel “An Object of Beauty” on CBS Sunday Morning a couple of months ago, Steve Martin had this to say when Rita Braver asked him “What was the most rewarding part?”:

“Finding the idea, then finding the words for it, then finding the exact words for it!”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hyundai’s Sonata and GM’s Malibu “Cannibalizing” Sales of Toyota’s Camry and Corolla? An Erroneous Use of the Word "Cannibalize"

You’ve probably heard about the increase in sales last year of some cars such as Hyundai’s Sonata, Ford’s Focus and Fusion, and GM’s Malibu, thanks to Toyota’s high-profile safety problems hurting the demand for Corolla and Camry. Last week--on February 8--I was disappointed to hear Nightly Business Report’s reporter extraordinaire Diane Eastabrook describe the situation as “Sonata has probably cannibalized sales from Camry” and “Malibu has probably cannibalized sales from Camry and Corolla.” This is an erroneous use of the term “cannibalize.” Before I explain why, let me point out that Diane Eastabrook is one of my favorite reporters on all of television because her presentations are tight, cogent, extremely well delivered, and gripping.

First, a bit of insight into the word “cannibalize.” As you probably know, to cannibalize is to eat one’s own kind. In a business context, cannibalization occurs when, in an effort to push a particular product, a company uses parts or resources meant for another product, thus letting the production/ sales of the latter suffer. Alternatively stated, a product is said to have been cannibalized when its marketer lets the sales of that product decline as a direct consequence of that firm pushing the sales of another of its products. So, for instance, if Nissan was facing capacity problems on its production lines and decided to divert some of the resources essential for the manufacture of the Maxima toward the production of higher-priced Infinitis, that would be a case of the company “cannibalizing” the sales of Maxima.

Summing up, Hyundai selling more Sonatas and GM selling more Malibus because of Toyota’s travails is nothing but a manifestation of the everyday competition in the marketplace. It’s simply a case of one company taking market share away from a rival firm, something that can arise because of a number of factors. To name just three: (i) the gaining product being superior, (ii) the losing product’s manufacturer acquiring a taint, (iii) a product shortage, because of manufacturing or distribution problems.

© Copyright 2011  V. J. Singal

Sunday, February 6, 2011

So, How Do You Pronounce “Jekyll” When Referring to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”?

Until now, when talking about Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” or when referring to someone with an apparently split personality, I had always pronounced Jekyll as [JEK-il]. Nor can I recall anyone else pronouncing it differently.

Well, the day before yesterday, I happened to watch the best known film version of Stevenson’s classic novel, the one produced in 1932 and starring Fredric March, who won the Oscar for best actor for playing the dual title roles. I was mighty surprised to hear Jekyll pronounced as [JEE-kul] throughout the movie. Subsequent Googling seems to confirm that [JEE-kul] is indeed the correct pronunciation!

© Copyright 2011  V. J. Singal

Monday, January 31, 2011

Spontaneous Pauses: The Great Facilitators of Fresh Words and Synonyms

If the use of fresh words and synonyms is a defining trait of those who are articulate, then so are spontaneous pauses.

First, what do I mean by spontaneous pauses? Unlike “pregnant pauses,” which are planned or deliberate and inserted in a speech or conversation for effect, a spontaneous pause is, well, unplanned and usually takes a fraction of a second--just sufficient time for a speaker’s brain to put its “random access drive” into motion and pick a fresh word that will help articulate that person's thoughts.

The video clip below is a perfect example of a spontaneous pause in action. After uttering the words “if one is living on social security alone, one’s got pretty,” the speaker--Nicholas Eberstadt--pauses for a split second as his brain seeks out a fresh and strong word that will help capture the essence of his message, and out comes “penurious” from his lips. Sure, there was a good chance that instead of penurious, Mr. Eberstadt might have come up with some other word that too would have given force to his argument.

Bottom line: If you can make the use of spontaneous pauses automatic when you are speaking with passion or trying to emphasize something--as I have learned to do over the years, fresh words and synonyms will become second nature to you.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Visual, Evocative Words to Emphasize Something—Some Inspiring / Humorous Examples

Here are some recent examples of articulate Americans and others using a vivid, evocative expression to emphasize something--examples which, I hope, will inspire the rest of us into similarly imaginative use of the language, especially when we are trying to break through the clutter.

1. Earlier today, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about the massive uprising in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, Tom Friedman saying: “Egypt, and really most of the Arab world, has been on vacation from history for the last 50 years, thanks largely to oil.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Making a Speech or Other Presentation Indelible, If Not Immortal

In my post of Nov. 21 last year, I pointed out that FDR’s “infamy speech” is a perfect example of how a single, fresh, out-of-the-ordinary, word or phrase that is also strong and evocative can sometimes help make a speech or other presentation memorable, if not immortal. Last week, which marked the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s inauguration as president, there wasn’t a news program in the nation that did not broadcast an excerpt of the inaugural he delivered on that bitterly cold morning of January 20, 1961, especially the line “And so my fellow Americans, ask not…” (see video clip below) which captured the essence of the speaker’s central message. In fact, that particular line is so deeply entrenched in the American psyche that, 100 years from now, that speech is still likely to rank as among the most stirring speeches by any American. Two more examples of speeches by American leaders becoming immortal, thanks to a line within that speech having such acute resonance that the words reverberate even today, decades later: (i) Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, in which the words “I have a dream” were the leitmotif of that extraordinary presentation delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. (ii) The speech delivered by President Reagan on June 12, 1987, from West Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, with the passionately delivered exhortation “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Heinous – the “Mispronounced Word of the Week”

This past week, while speaking about the tragedy in Tucson, numerous Americans have used the word “heinous” [pronounced HAY-nus] to describe Jared Loughner’s crime. No surprise there. What has amazed me is the number of prominent and well-educated people who have mispronounced that word, including University of Arizona President Robert Shelton. In his opening remarks at the nationally broadcast memorial service on Wednesday night (the one attended by President Obama), Shelton pronounced heinous as “highness.” Unbelievable!

© Copyright 2011 V. J. Singal