Harness the Power of Your Words

Effective workplace communicators and presenters have learned to harness the power of their words. Whether delivering a message over the phone, in writing or in a presentation, effective word choices do make a big difference in how the message is understood, appreciated and turned into action.

I’ll review some ‘Best Practices’ in future articles, but first let’s discuss some of my favorite ‘Worst Practices’ – the poor word choices busy business leaders often make and why they make them. Typically, my executive coaching clients fall victim to one or more flaws affecting the words they use … and don’t use.

  • Our written language is different from our spoken version. It has a subtly different structure and style, like the difference between a newspaper story and a radio news story on the same topic. It’s difficult to sound conversational if people write for the ‘eye’, but people unconsciously try to do that.
  • Ironically, a sub-title for my workplace writing workshops is often ‘Write Like You Talk’, stressing the need for simplicity and conversational style with the written word. Conversely, a sub-title for my presentation workshops is ‘Don’t Talk Like You Write’.
  • Everyone is busier than ever, doing more with less. It’s so easy to simply go with the first word you can think of or the word you usually think of. And that’s been good enough all these years, hasn’t it? It takes a rare blend of awareness, commitment and time to go beyond those choices to find the best word you can think of for your specific readers, listeners or audience and your intended outcomes.
  • Our words reflect our personalities, our values, often our view of our own self-worth. Depending on our education and background, we may still be fond of the more formal, complicated and flowery vocabulary we had to learn in school. We may be consciously or unconsciously motivated to write to impress, to flaunt, and even to intimidate. Those motives can easily show up when we speak when coupled with a matching tone of voice.

If I’m hitting a nerve here – great. No need to thank me. That’s my job … and my pleasure. If you see yourself reflected in some of the above points – and are willing to do something about it – great. If not – don’t. Just accept the reality of the old adage that warns ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you always gotten.’ If that works for you, it works for me, too.

As you continue the journey towards reader-centric or listener-centric messaging, embrace the benefit from using words that are short, familiar, specific, consistent, active, powerful and personal. Use them to forge a more contemporary and conversational style with simple sentences and paragraphs that clearly and consistently convey your message.

So, raise your own word use awareness. Review past memos, handouts, slides or other documents. Look for your habits, especially those you’d consider changing … and begin to Harness the Power of Your Words.