Specificity and perfectionism can make for an awkward speaker

Recently I heard someone give advice that when speaking you should sound confident because when people are listening to you, they listen to how you sound more than what you say. Its interesting advice that I think may be true, particularly in cases where people don’t know exactly what you’re talking about. I think we’re very emotional creatures and when we use our voice, we can arose emotions in others. Those emotions can then influence – so the best speaker is also the best artist.

My friends and I have developed a habit of speaking slowly, with pauses that allow us to direct our words carefully. We are very competitive and will argue a point ad nauseam until truth is identified. We also communicate through digital formats which allow us to choose our words slowly and deliberately. All of these things reenforce a habit of speaking slowly, speaking without passion, and not being able to string together emotions in a convincing way while speaking.

Its a habit thats tough to break. There is a constant fact checker mechanism running in your head when you speak which takes up processing power that could otherwise be used to be more like Bill Clinton – awesome at speaking to crowds.

Another thing I’ve noticed is there are words I resort to that are essentially safety words which protect my statements against future attack, but also make my message weaker. These are words like “perhaps”, “some”, and “chance.” They offer a comfortable shade of grey to my arguments but when comparing these two statements: “Perhaps there is a chance we are doing the wrong thing?” and “We are doing the wrong thing.”, its clear which has more emotion, more power.

The delicateness and backtracking that a perfectionist may be tempted to use can also make speaking awkward. I enjoy watching the Apple executives mix up words in a sentence, or mispronounce a word, and just plow right through it like nothing happened. Its the right thing to do – everyone still understands what they meant. However, imagine someone who is really concerned with extreme perfectionism correcting themselves, rewording their phrases, and correcting when they say a word incorrectly. Its hard to keep up with, and it breaks their rhythm – suddenly their speech is not as effective.

Its interesting to me how similar speaking and music are when it comes to emotion. Both have rhythm, both use tone, both often have a message or meaning. Hopefully I’ll be capable of moving people with words as much as some music moves me.

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