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I often have to speak in front of groups of people both for business, social and other functions. One of the questions I always ask myself after the talk is, “Did I communicate or did I just talk.” Very few of us have the time to listen to someone just speaking. If we are listening to someone we usually are seeking information or communication. I have sat through several speeches, seminars, and meetings and wondered what they were trying to say. As I thought about it I began to recognize tips I could use.

Have you ever been around someone or listened to a speaker who was able to put big, pompous words in every sentence they spoke? It did not matter whether it was in context or not, they stuck it into the sentence. Big words have never impressed me or made me think the speaker was more knowledgeable. One thing if the word is out of context then the speaker looks foolish. Another thing is if I do not understand the word, you have failed to communicate. Something I once read is if you have to look in a thesaurus, you are using the wrong word.

One of the first tips is to know your audience, “Who are you speaking to?” If you are speaking to a class of 2nd graders at your child’s show and tell then speak at that level. If you are an astrophysicist and speaking at an astrophysics symposium then you may be able to speak at a slightly higher level. I once heard that the average person thinks at a 10th-grade level. If this is true then you should gear your words to that. No matter what the level the goal of a speech is communication and the simpler you make your speech the easier it is to accomplish.

Another tip is to know your subject. I can tell you from experience that trying to bluff your way through an unfamiliar topic will ultimately bite you. It is usually very obvious when someone is not familiar with the subject and is just “blowing smoke.” Take the time to review the topic and understand it. By breaking it down to its’ basic form it is easier to sound intelligent when speaking about it. Try to use simple terms without sounding childish, remember know your audience.

We have all heard the children’s rhyme “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” This is not true. In business as in other areas, words can have a devastating effect on your career and/or life. Think about what you are saying and consider the words carefully in all situations. I was once told by the Director of Florida Operations at a company I worked for, just prior to me giving a report, that “I should consider my words carefully, that my future employment depended on them.” I think he was kidding but it did make me think and I still remember it every time I give a report or a speech.

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