Clarity & Brevity – They Both Rule!

Some of you have probably begun thinking more about the words you use in workplace communication in general and with presentations in particular. Good – that’s the whole idea behind this series of articles.

If you identified lots of word choice habits, also good. If you asked yourself why you used a particular word or phrase and weren’t happy with your blow-off answers ‘That’s the first one I thought of’ … or … ‘That’s the one I usually use’, then get ready to rock & roll. You’ll benefit from some lessons learned on our journey towards more audience-centric word choices.


Go back to Square One

1. The Audience Analysis data you gathered early on should tell you a lot about what type of words would be most appropriate for a given presentation’s outcomes and audience. Consider their educational levels, organizational levels, backgrounds and culture when choosing the Best words you can think of.

2. You also determined the appropriate Tone of your message. Your words, structure and syntax all influence how your message ‘feels’ to your audience and the emotional or connotative reactions they might have to your words choices.

3. Let those decisions impact your word choices. Every word you say should be on purpose and for a purpose. Go beyond the ‘first one/usual one’ approach to the Best one you can find that consistently and clearly conveys your intended meaning to your specific audience. And it’s not that long a trip.

Clarity Rules

You’re probably expecting me to grind my axe about brevity here. Correct – Less is More in workplace communication and presentations. Brevity is very important, but Clarity always trumps Brevity. If you have a choice between a shorter or more conversational word or phrase and a longer, more formal word or phrase … and the shorter option is just as clear … or clearer … go with it. But, never sacrifice Clarity just to achieve Brevity. Better to use a longer word or more words to clearly communicate your message.

That said, ‘telephone’ becomes ‘phone’, ‘automobile’ becomes ‘car’, ‘compensate’ becomes ‘pay’, ‘finalize’ becomes ‘finish’, ‘approximately’ becomes ‘about’ and ‘modification’ becomes ‘change’. Turn ‘fluctuation’ into ‘change’, ‘commence’ into ‘begin’, ‘utilize’ into ‘use’ and ‘anticipate’ into ‘expect’.

Instead of adding four words with ‘to the extent that’, only add one with ‘if’. Instead of ‘each and every one of you’, save three words with ‘all of you’ or ‘each of you’. No need to say ‘ … a check in the amount of $2,300 … ’ when ‘ … for $2,300’ works better. Is ‘at this present point in time …’ any clearer than ‘ … now …’? No! Do we really add any value by saying ‘… state of Ohio … ‘ instead of simply ‘ … Ohio … ‘? No! Avoid redundancy with ‘consensus of opinion’ when ‘consensus’ means the same thing. Why ever say ‘red in color’ when all we need is ‘red’.

Can you hear and ‘feel’ a difference in tone between ‘in lieu of’ and ‘instead of’, between ‘I am in receipt of’ and ‘I received’ or ‘’pursuant to our telephone conversation’ and ‘as we discussed’? I can. Your readers or audience certainly can.

Next time, we’ll continue challenging your word habits and suggesting more audience-centric alternatives. Till then … go write and present with more power and success … and start harnessing the power of your words.

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