Published in Heart of a Woman in Business, releasing October 1, 2008

Which Words?
How to Bring Eloquence to your Presentation Skills

Eloquence is lean. But, I didn’t know that when I started speaking 7 years ago. I used weighty language, and for the wrong reasons. In retrospect I can see innocence in the mistake. I was a woman and often younger than my mostly male clients. My expertise had been acquired through an eclectic route and bore no degrees or designations to fortify surety in myself. So I used three-dollar words to sound credible, content-ful and smart. The more nervous I got, the more tiles disappeared from my scrabble bag.

A breakthrough came while a consultant was preparing me for a radio interview on parenting, the topic of which was to be a concept I call “The Trophy Child.” In our practice session, I kept saying the problem of using our children to gain status was systemic, and she kept saying the word systemic was inaccessible and preventing me from connecting with the audience. She was right and this “a-ha” lead to the development of a mental filter. A little bell began to go off when the wrong motive was behind a lavish word. Now I work to make impact without pomp. I have found simplicity and brevity are harder.

The tendency to be verbose can come from other roots. Many industry and business experts are so familiar with their own jargon, they cannot see how thick and impenetrable it is to the listener. Professorial trivia buffs have trouble with arcane references that create separation and leave folks behind (seen any Dennis Miller lately?).

Does this mean that we should shy away from using colorful or interesting words? Au contraire! But, we must be sure our selections are mindful, and strive to elevate the message, not ourselves.

Each of us have some verbal shortcomings and big words may not be your issue. You may have trouble putting your thoughts together in a clear way; you may be a 20/30 something for whom “like”, “you know” and “totally” have infected your delivery; you may have a hard time feeling confidant in front of any size group and find that this internal experience corrupts your ability to speak well. Let’s face it, we can all turn up the heat on purposeful word choice. There is work to do. The first task is to reflect.

Step one is external. We must have truth reflected back at us, as in a mirror. Seek feedback on your presentations through video, coaching, honest words of colleagues, and evaluations. Now take these numerous and thorough points of view and see how they reflect your eloquence. Are you hearing “to the point”, ”articulate” or “really kept my attention?” How many said “seemed a bit long” or “couldn’t quite follow.”

Step two is internal. Usually a critical mass of data is building around us to help reveal blind spots, and if we are quiet we will begin to notice themes in our own professional flaws. Become a watcher to your own play and try to actually listen to yourself while you speak. This will take some time but soon you will actually be pulled out of your own presenter trance when your words sound over-the-top, meandering or dull. You will notice when you drone on during your A to a short Q. Speaking of Q’s…asking yourself reflection questions can help. “Am I saying exactly what I mean?” “What portions of this presentation don’t really add anything relevant?” “What would it look like to be in complete command of this room?”

Step three is eternal. As our presentation careers progress our word choice becomes more perfect and more natural. Eventually we move from Thermometer to Thermostat. A thermometer constantly checks to see what the room feels like. A thermostat hovers at the right mark by making constant adjustments automatically.
And after all of this reflection; Redesign! Here are a few tips to get you started…

12 Stops on the Road to Eloquence

Upgrade your Source: Don’t stop at your computer thesaurus. Purchase The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale and Nancy LaRoche. This juicy tome is the difference between the spatula aisle at Vons and William Sonoma.

Off your Offspring: Writers fall in love with their own words. But, when it comes to editing the common thought is, you must “kill your children.” Go through your presentations and edit listening for overkill, showing off, repetition and repeating.

WWMAD: What would Maya Angelou do? If I were one of the great masters of clarity blended with poetry, how would I say it?

Practice Makes Perfect:
Don’t feel strange about rehearsing what you are going to say whether it is to an audience of 1, 3 or 1000. Nerves can hijack your eloquence in a heartbeat unless they are tamed by practice. Use this discipline especially when speaking in front of anyone that is particularly intimidating to you or who presses that Daddy/ Big Brother/ Hot-Guy-Who-Rejected-You button.

Go Low: Ladies, be aware of when you are chattering away in your high register. To empathize with the male perspective on this sound, try calling to mind the last time your children were whining. Use your low tones. Then give yourself positive and affirming self-talk to add the confidence to back them up.

Follow Through: You know how to follow through in sports. Do the same in speaking. Once the perfect eloquent words are in your speech infuse them with good full breaths. Let your weight drift forward to the balls of your feet. Linnnger slightly on the right consonants and exlooore your vowels.

Cut That Out: When striving for eloquence on paper try to cut out the word “that” whenever you can. It is unnecessary 90% of the time.

Write It- Edit It: You have 100 words to make a point to a man. Any more and you venture into the territory I like to call “The Avalanche;” pouring tons and tons of info into their very action-oriented minds. Try this- write out everything you want to say and then edit it down to 100 words. When you read it back you will get the felling of the brevity and directness that makes men listen.

Go Easy on Quotes: If you crave more splash in your words, don’t borrow them too liberally to meet this need. Too many quotes in a presentation smacks of amateurishness. They came to hear you.

Drop the Cookbook:
I love to bake because it is an opportunity for instinct and nuance. A good recipe partway through is abandoned, like a guidebook that at some point is tossed to the tour-bus floor so one can run off and explore. The point is…Improvise a bit; even through content you have already written.

Identify your Recipe: One more baking analogy and then I am going to have to go whip up a lemon bundt cake so I can get back to concentrating. There are different flavors of eloquence. Ask yourself, what is your eloquence recipe? A spoon of wisdom? A pinch of sweetness or sarcasm? Just a dash of subtlety?

Warm Up: Why write it if your lips can’t say it? The most beautiful words need a warm and flexible vocal instrument to be heard. You can sing scales. You can hum a note, sliding up and down. Don’t forget the tongue twisters. My favorite; “She stood on the balcony inimitably mimicking him, hicupping and amicably welcoming him in.”

Welcome to today’s words. “Punked” is a verb and Paris Hilton a role model. We need every well-spoken syllable we can find. So don’t give up the fight. Carrying the torch of moving and relevant language is, as it always has been, up to you, to me and the occasional odd guy on a box in a public square.

-Juliet Funt, Speaker, Author

Juliet Funt is the owner of Talking on Purpose, Inc. Her hilarious, lively and idea-packed presentations may just be the most fun thing about your next meeting or training day. Check out for more info or contact Juliet at 323 854 8855 or