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
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
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
Next month we will
look at some more things to consider when using definitions.