Have you ever been trapped listening to a presentation that was going nowhere fast? In a training session at the university where I teach, a technology specialist was sharing tips on how to use a new attendance tracking program. The presentation was so littered with jargon and personal stories and unrelated asides, that I pictured myself jumping up and screaming “get to the point!” I didn’t, of course. But I really, really wanted to. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

We all do it. Clutter up our writing and speaking with phrases that add to the word count without adding any value. In the classic composition textbook, Elements of Style, Strunk and White remind us, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences . . . This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” Every word tell—every word should be working to earn it’s keep.

If you have unnecessary words in your presentation, it’s time to weed them out. Why? Because the attention spans of our audience members are getting shorter. Executive Vice President of PGi, Sean O’Brien says, “With an attention span of five minutes, the average audience is going to tune out 84% of your 30-minute speech.” That’s a scary statistic.

But we’ve got 5 tips to help you save some words (and maybe the sanity of a few audience members in the process).

1. Don’t start sentences with “there is,” “there are,” or “it is.”

These phrases should go off like a warning bell, alerting you to change your sentence structure. In the example below, simply changing word structure can cut your sentence word count by more than half.

WORDY: It is my opinion that today’s talk will help you understand the importance bees play in our environment. (That’s a total of 18 words.)
CONCISE: Bees play an important part in our environment. (Now we only have 8 clear and hard-working words.)

2. Avoid passive voice.

Passive voice is when the object of the sentence is flipped around to become the subject. Because of the awkward verb structure, you will probably end up using more words than necessary. Active voice, on the other hand, leads to more concise sentences.

PASSIVE: The budget report has been filed by the appropriate department.
ACTIVE: The appropriate department filed the budget report.

3. Eliminate redundancy.

Repetition is necessary in presentations because it takes a few times for the audience to catch things that are delivered orally. However, save repetition for the main ideas you are trying to get across. When you start repeating things that are smaller bits of information, it becomes redundant. Pay attention to sentences that simply restate without adding new information. Phrases like “in other words” or “what I mean by that” may be signals that you are being redundant. Also avoid phrases like “I think” or “in my opinion” which are unnecessary because they are naturally assumed if you are the one speaking.

4. Don’t announce.

Statements like, “let me share with you” or “I’d like to tell you” can be weeded out. Don’t tell us you are going to tell a story, just tell the story.

WORDY: The fact is, what we are about to cover is important because it affects all of you.
CONCISE: Listen closely, because this affects all of you.

5. Say it out loud.

If you are practicing your speech out loud and you find that you are consistently tripping up on a sentence, that’s probably a clue that it is too wordy. See if you can break it into two smaller sentences or reword it. You can use longer, more complex sentences with writing because the reader can slow down or reread as needed. But with speaking, keep sentences short and simple since the audience has to catch the meaning right away.

Using these 5 tips, you are ready to reduce the word clutter in your presentations. Keep what matters; let go of what repeats or dilutes or distracts. When you do, your presentation will not only be shorter, it will have more impact and clarity.

Need more tips on how to deliver a clear and concise presentation every time? Ethos3 is ready to help.

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