Cut the fluff

You want more confident communication? Cut out the filler in your sentences.

by Darian Rosebrook
February 06, 2017

Uh, I really do think that you should probably cut the fluff out of your conversation immediately to avoid any confusion when you are trying to prove a point to other people.

Strong communication stems from brevity. Brevity is a concise and exact use of words in writing or speech. With the art of language, having the exact choice of words to say more with less is a sincere form of mastery. Though you may never scrub your verbal dictionary perfectly clean of filler words, you can make a serious change in improving how you communicate your ideas to other people.

Constant use of filler words means you carrying around bad habit. People don’t understand that they are using more words than necessary to fill the void. Your brain holds onto these words like a toddler holds onto his binky: ready to insert them into the mouth whenever their mouth is free.

There are generally three forms of communication where brevity can be beneficial. Each one of the mediums originates from the same place. It may not be the same thing you’re thinking.

Brevity begins with writing. A lot of writing.

A sculptor and his tools

Having a lot of things to say is not a bad thing. A person could pump out 365 great papers on what they want to talk about. But a great sculptor can take a large amount of material and cut it down to reveal what is truly inside.

*Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.

— Michelangelo*

Much like the sculptor, an idea masterpiece will require a lot of material to cut down when communicating. Having too many words may seem like a curse, but it can actually be a blessing during your editing process.

Brevity in writing

When you write your sentence you have an “inner voice” that tracks along with your hands. It forms your message during your writing as you move along. Where this becomes unhelpful is when your brain starts to insert words between the words you’re trying to communicate with.

While doing any writing, I start writing what idea is floating around up there. What comes to the page, whether with a pen or with a keyboard, may look clean in and precise.

In my mind, my overly helpful brain decides that I need more words than necessary to make the point. The only way to let your communication get better from here is to acknowledge the words your brain is trying to help, listen to it, and continue along like you were intending.

Have you ever shared the same dream as this child?

Writing isn’t the only form of communication that people use to illustrate their ideas. I write my ideas down and eventually share these ideas in conversation or through presentation. Verbal communication can be messy. You want to come across as an intelligent person, but you need a moment to move from idea to idea. This slight gap of decision making creates a space that people see as “dead air.” Your first instinct is to fill it.

Brevity in conversation

The very brain that may be sabotaging your writing may be doing the same thing to your voice. During a verbal discussion, your brain has less time to come up with a solid response than someone writing on paper. Someone trying not to break the flow would see silence as a heinous crime. During silence, someone else may be able to interject and steal your opportunity to speak. Your body goes into panic mode to fill the void and starts making prehistoric grunting or cooing to keep everyone’s attention.

This reaction is a fear of being brushed off or ignored when your brain lags behind. Conversation has a rhythm that allows for communication to flow evenly through each participant. When someone breaks the rhythm it opens up the floor for interjection. The split seconds it may take to create the next thought could steer the conversation into a different direction entirely.

To avoid this you have to trim the time from the last person’s words to yours. Most people during a conversation wait for their turn to speak, meaning they are probably not listening to the entire conversation. When someone states an idea or point, you’re only vaguely listening because you are trying to craft your perfect response. This creates a lag time for you since you now have to recap what they said and find a way to get your response to match. It would make more sense to engage in conversation instead of a monologue.

Brevity in presentation

Focus is your ally. Having the clear points you want to make during a presentation down in writing will keep you from straying to the oblivion. Great focus when presenting ideas only comes through practice. Brevity in conversation has similar skills to brevity during presentations. Where they differ is the ability to practice before the presentation. You have the ability to craft your speech on paper before going to present. And usually you know what topic you are going to speak about, what points you have to say, and what the time frame is.

If you have a 30 minute presentation, you may be freaking out thinking “How do I fill 30 minutes of time with talking?” or “How do I fit all of my points in such a short amount of time?”

Both have the same answer, you take each point that you have and you give it a time limit. It’s backwards building at it’s finest, you start with how much time you have, divide by the amount of points you are trying to make, give each time slot a point, and then create your presentation based on that information.

More often than not, you are trying to go in less prepared than you should. This can be a huge confidence killer. By practicing these points at a minimum of two times front to back, you’ll be able to see where the gaps are and what needs trimmed or expanded upon.

Grow your “hybrid voice”

Surfaced by Sean McCabe of seanwes, he talks about using your hybrid voice as coupling the tone of communication you have when speaking with the tone of communication you have when you are writing. The two go hand in hand during the recording of his podcast “seanwes podcast” which has been increasing in quality over time.

When someone is reading from a book, you can tell. The words are not their own. Sentence flow becomes unnaturally choppy. The opposite is true, where you start to write in a manner that is incongruent with how you communicate, your words become embellished and fluffy.

There is a camber in a person’s speaking tone that drives communicative hierarchy. Tone is a difficult thing to bring to paper. Without practice on both speaking and writing you won’t have a good sense of how something will read to others.

Take your idea. It’s a beautiful idea. Get your pen and notebook ready, take your phone, mp3 player, computer, camera… start writing down what you wanted to say. Get all the way to the end of the page with all of the thought laid down on paper. Grab your recording device.

Record you reading the actual words that are on the paper. Chances are, if it’s awkward for you to say, it’s awkward for someone else to read. It doesn’t matter how well you can read it, but once the page is done being recorded, grab your notebook again.

After speaking it aloud, play back the recording of what you wrote, and write that down on paper. This cycle repeats until you communicate effectively with both.

I have had to use this during my communications course in high school to help remove my speech impediments when talking. If you heard me talk 10 years ago, you and I would be having a very different conversation right now. Your articulate writing voice and your natural speaking voice start to become the same thing.

Create Communicative Hierarchy

I tapped the topic of using tone to establish communicative hierarchy earlier. Your tone of voice is something that may be easy to perceive in speaking, but may be harder to detect in writing.

When I talk about communicative hierarchy, the size of your headings and body copy in writing play a part in it. Where you are able to use volume, pauses, and tone to speak your point, doing so in writing doesn’t always have the same effect. Reading between the lines has been an effective way of understanding a person’s motivation to write something. Doing so takes a great understanding of communication to figure out. However, writing your tone into your pages isn’t as hard as it should seem.

You can bring attention to certain points in your writing based on the words you choose to communicate through. You have the ability to lengthen or shorten certain sentences. You can embolden a point to make it more prominent. Even using italics to create a secondary tone for your sentences.

Spend some time learning ways you could use writing mechanics to achieve the same communicative hierarchy that you achieve in speaking.

Lead With Conviction

Position yourself as an authoritative source of information. When you cut the words “I think” you cut the redundancy of stating something you actually think and position the statement with more confidence.

Being human means being wrong occasionally. Though it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission to share, you should exercise caution in what you choose to talk about as fact or certainty. News sources occasionally get facts wrong, and it causes them to have to come out and apologize. This is where you start to audit your source of information and continue to get better at storing and sharing information. Sharing things that you know or have tried / tested will cut the errors down significantly.

Having the ability to speak with conviction drives others to listen to you. When you ask for directions, who would you listen to? The person who says “I think the Mezzanine is just over that hill…” or the person who says, “You drive over that hill and the Mezzanine will be there.”

Using all of these points will allow you to become more confident as a communicator over time. It may be something that you get right away, or it will take small wins over time to get better. But employing yourself to cut those extra words out of your conversations and present your ideas with conviction can ultimately improve your effectiveness as a communicator.

How will you utilize brevity this week to increase your communication skills?

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