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Oct. 2009 - Supporting the Talk: Definitions—Guidelines for their Use

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

October 2009

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.

Don’t overuse definitions. I 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.

Use generally accepted definitions. 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.
John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

December 2006 - Motivating Others: Communicate Clearly
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