Publications & Products
Volume 4, Issue 36

Avoid Evasiveness when Public Speaking

Public speakers can lose their command of a room by using hedging language like "I think," "sort of" or "kind of," writes a business school professor.

Matt Abrahams, lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, recently identified some common speaking habits that can damage public speaking credibility and shared how to overcome them in a blog post. They include:

  • Using hedging language. "In presentations, hedges have the effect of softening your position, reducing your authority and making you seem wishy-washy and unsure of what you are saying," he writes. "Find stronger, more powerful words to replace these less assertive ones. For example, ‘I think' becomes ‘I believe' or ‘I know.' ‘Kind of' and ‘sort of' can be replaced with ‘one way.'"
  • Asking tag questions. "These occur when you add a question to the end of a phrase, such as ‘This is a good hamburger, isn't it?'" Abrahams writes. "The first step to ridding yourself of tag questions ... is to become aware of when you are speaking them. To raise your awareness, you can have a colleague notify [you] when you have asked a tag question or you can record yourself speaking and note them yourself... Eventually, you will transition from recognizing that you just asked a tag question to noticing that you are about to ask a tag."
  • Up-talking. "If you are an up-talker, then the ending of your sentences rises in pitch, essentially making your declarative sentences sound like questions," he writes. "To address this, you need to practice what I term ‘landing' your sentences and phrases. Rather than inhale close to the end of your sentences, focus on exhaling completely as you finish your thought."

This article is from the March 16, 2015 issue.

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Advancement Talk

In this month's Advancement Talk, learn about the future of class notes in alumni magazines.