I've learned two simple, but very powerful techniques to make anyone a better communicator and sound smarter when they do it.
The Lips Move Quicker Than the Brain
The next time you watch somebody doing an interview on TV, listen to how they start each response. Focus on the first few words they say. Look for the number of times the person adds unnecessary words off the top of their response before they get to their answer. It’s amazing how often it happens.
Many people start with what I call “crutch words.” These are unnecessary words that people have fallen into the habit of using when they start their response.
A few of the popular crutch words are “So”, “Yeah” “I mean” and the old favourite “Well.”
For whatever reason, many people now start responses with the word “so.” This word is not meant to start sentences. It’s a connecting word. “We went to the store, but it was closed, so we went to the game without our usual snacks.” Far too often I hear “So, (insert pause here) we went to the store…..” Eliminate the word “so” and your response instantly becomes much stronger. There’s nothing wrong with saying “We went to the store….”
“Yeah” is another word I constantly hear at the front of responses. Athletes use this a lot when being interviewed. “Yeah, our defence was great today”, as opposed to “Our defence was great today.” It’s a useless word. Last week I was watching Bloomberg Business TV and a financial analyst started every response with the word “Yeah”, as in “Yeah I don’t expect to see the market bounce back today like it did yesterday.”
“I mean” is normally a totally useless phrase to start a response. Of course you mean something if you say it.
“Well” is normally a word used to start a response, when a person feels the need to tell a short story or give a lengthy explanation.
These crutch words are habit forming and we tend to use them because our lips move quicker than our brains. Instead of taking an extra second to respond to a question, we feel an urgency to respond as quickly as possible, despite the fact we really aren’t ready to. Rather than taking that extra second to allow our brain to catch up to our lips, we use crutch words, or end up saying something like “Well yeah, I mean, umm, our defence was great today.” It’s far better to take an extra split second to respond and say “Our defence was great today.”
Try this experiment. Start a day by telling yourself that every response you give to somebody at home or at work, will begin properly. See how it goes and adjust along the way.
We’ve all heard about making a good impression, but far too often the first words people use in their responses don’t do that. You can sound far more intelligent by taking an extra second to determine how you want to start your response and then get right to what you need to say.
Answer First, Explain Second
The other thing many people can do better is the way they answer questions that someone has posed, regardless of the situation. It could be in a workplace setting where somebody in authority is asking a question to a person who reports to them. It could be between two people in a personal relationship, or even in a media interview.
Answer first, explain second.
What I mean by that is, give your answer to the person’s question and then if you feel the need to do so, provide an explanation for your answer. I see far too many people doing the opposite.
Too often the person has a really good answer, but they start by giving a long explanation and finally get to their answer towards the end of their response. What tends to happen is, the person who asked the question is waiting for some kind of a yes or no from the other person and after a few seconds they think to themselves “This person isn’t answering my question. Why aren’t they answering my question?”
Mistrust instantly occurs, because the person who asked the question feels they’re getting the runaround. By the time the respondent gets to the answer, the other person might have already tuned out.
You build trust and show confidence by giving your answer and then explaining why. This also allows the person who asked the question to digest the response, allowing them to better understand the explanation.
Here’s a quick example of how this works. “No I don’t believe that’s the case. We looked into this several times over the years and we’ve always reached the same conclusion. Here’s what we found when we surveyed residents in the area……”
This works far better than giving a lengthy explanation of background information on what people have said and then finally ending with your answer.
Some people think they sound smarter by giving the explanation first and almost ignoring the question until the end of their response. I don’t think sounding smarter is the goal here. The goal is to give a good answer the other person clearly understands.
Try these two techniques and you'll sound smarter right away.
Need to Communicate Better?
If you like what you see in this blog, there's a lot more. I offer communication workshops
for groups and one-on-one coaching as well. They can be done in-person or virtually. Check out the Communication Training section in the Store
on my website.