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Sept. 2009 - Supporting the Talk: Definitions—Why they are Important

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John Kline, PhD, inspirational and motivational keynote and after-dinner speaker and corporate trainer.

September 2009

Supporting the Talk: Definitions—Why they are Important

For the next several months I will discuss the way speakers can support the points they are trying to make. This month we’ll consider definitions and why they are important to the speaker and audience.

Some words sound like other words. A speaker told the benefits of a “pay per view” service. The listener heard “paper view.” Misunderstanding could have been avoided if the first time the speaker used the term he would have said: “The new service offers the opportunity to watch movies from the comfort of your own home by paying each time you choose to view one of them. This ‘pay per view’ feature has been popular.”

Sometimes the words are new. For example, a webinar was practically unheard of before 2000. Yet, I have both participated in and led dozens of them in the last couple of years. And who would have thought just a few years ago that we would be tweeting and twittering?

Words often have more than one meaning. I told a colleague the temperature in my office is comfortable. However, my “comfortable,” is her “uncomfortable.” For me, 77 degrees is comfortable; for her, 70 degrees is comfortable. The same word can mean different things to different people.

Different words can mean the same things. A teacher asked students to relate anecdotes from their personal experience. After class a student asked if she could just tell a short interesting story instead. From that day on, the teacher never made that assignment without first defining or explaining that an anecdote is a short interesting story.

Some words have strong emotional meanings. Consider the word, failure. The word often has a negative meaning or connotation—we fail a test, fail to get selected for a job, or experience a failed relationship. Yet, failure may be good. A test may fail to show the presence of cancer cells; that failure is good. Speakers must be careful to define words that may have unintended meanings for their listeners.

The meanings of words change over time. For example, awful once mean awesome or deserving of awe. Word meanings change.

Next month we will look at some more things to consider when using definitions.
John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

December 2006 - Motivating Others: Communicate Clearly
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