Say More With Less

Why do women struggle so much to reach levels men easily achieve when it comes to professional speaking? Randy Harvey, 2004 World Champion of Public Speaking’s answer: “economy of words”.

In her popular 2006 book “The Female Brain”, Louann Brizendine claimed that women spoke three times as much as men. She suggested that women are wired to be more “chatty”.

Louann is wrong about the speaking, but right about the wiring.

Matthias Mehl, psychologist at the University of Arizona, recorded the daily words of 396 students in 2007. He found that women speak, on average, just over 16,000 words per day, while men speak just below 16,000. The top three talkers in the study, with just over 47,000 words, were all … wait for it … men!

So, if women don’t actually speak that much more than men, why does the world think they do?

Go back to Randy Harvey’s “economy of words” comment. It’s not how much we talk, it’s what we say and how we say it that leaves the wrong impression … or sometimes, no impression at all. I hate to admit this is part of our hard-wiring. (See my 2010 humourous speech “Waffles and Spaghetti”)

Our brains are hardwired with the amazing ability to string together seemingly random thoughts and events at lightening speed. Somehow they all connect and they all matter… in our brains, not necessarily in our audience’s.

Want to make the right impression? Say more with less.

I still catch myself saying too many words to get across what could have been clearly shared in a single, well crafted sentence. It’s my constant struggle to organize my thoughts and economize my words concisely before I open my mouth.

to-write-224591_640Here’s my challenge to myself and to any woman who truly wants to become a better speaker, whether to influence large audiences, small boardrooms or important people in your life:

  1. Video tape or make an audio recording of EVERY speech you give, even a one-minute “elevator speech”.
  2. Play it back,transcribe it and hack and slash all the words, phrases and ideas that are redundant or don’t add further

I started doing this early in my shift from training to speaking. I had the habit of explaining the same thing three different ways, giving waaaaay too much back-story and losing the main message in the details. Once I was aware of this, I improved very quickly. In the back of my mind I now hack and slash my sentences and thoughts on the fly. Prepared speeches are always under revision. Nothing’s sacred. Any word or idea that doesn’t serve my audience is on the chopping block. Less is more.

I would love to hear what you notice. If you’re willing to share, please post below.

After a few recordings (and painful self-evaluations) you will start to catch yourself mid-sentence, before your words betray your speedy spaghetti brain. Never fear! Even on the largest stage, your audience will be right with you if you pause, look around, breathe and say “Wait. Let me be clear and concise.” 


2 Replies to “Say More With Less”

  1. Hi Carol,

    Well said, Carol!

    Your pithy post offers serves up an simple, yet invaluable strategy for refining our speeches.

    Sometimes, out of a belief that one’s point is not being heard, people will reiterate said point, which often has the opposite effect – people may tune out when there are too many words, or if the point is not made in an appropriate amount of time.

    Nervousness may also cause the tongue to way, and wag some more. In this “Age of Noise” .

  2. As I writer, I love words. I love to play with them, wallow in them and squish them through my fingers. Editing my speeches is like deliberately inflicting pain on my child.
    They don’t call it “killing your babies” for nothing. I find that I have to get rid of tons of descriptive prose that might be necessary for a book or a blog post but is not necessary for a speech.