Supporting the Talk:
Definitions—Guidelines for their Use
Last month we discussed
why definitions are important for the speaker and the audience. This
month’s column gives some guidelines for using them.
once heard an aspiring motivational speaker begin by saying, “I want to
tell you how to be a motivator. The dictionary defines motivator
as ‘one who motivates’ ” Duh! Everyone in the audience already knew
that. Furthermore, even when definitions are necessary, too many of them
can overtax listeners. If many key definitions are necessary, consider
printing them and distributing them as a handout.
For example, you wouldn’t say,
“For purposes of
this talk, I define a gregarious person as ‘one who stays to himself or
herself—one who is uncomfortable around other people.’”
This would be confusing, since a
gregarious person is considered a very social person. Make your
definitions fit the expectations of the audience.
Don’t define a term
one way and then define it differently later.
I recently heard a speaker
define a “single person dwelling” as being a place where a person lives
by himself or herself. Later it became apparent the speaker was also
using “single person dwelling” to mean a place that is home to a single
family unit, such as a man and woman and their children. Once a term is
defined, stick with the definition.
Define terms with
your audience in mind.
A military member would
likely understand terms such as company commander, first shirt, or ops
tempo; a person without military experience most likely would not.
Someone in the corporate world would understand the meanings of CEO,
CIO, CFO or COO. Others may not. Definitions should suit the audience.
Don’t define a word,
term, or concept with one equally difficult to understand.
The speaker says the
subject is “very recondite.” An audience member asks what he means. The
speaker replies, “Esoteric or hermetic, do you understand now?” To which
the questioner replies, “Oh yeah, sure, sure; now I understand. Where
does an alien go to register?”
Enough for this month.
Next month we will discuss types of examples to use in presentations.