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How amazing public speakers avoid verbal slop and drivel

You can’t deny it: Verbal slop and drivel often find their way into speeches and presentations. Don’t let this happen to you! Instead, learn to do what amazing public speakers do.

 

Did you know there’s an entire week each year – Words Matter Week – dedicated to stamping out “verbal slop and drivel”?

That sounds to me like a worthy cause – and a call to action! – for all of us: CEOs, business leaders and the executive communicators and speechwriters tasked to turn their bosses into amazing public speakers.

This year, national Words Matter Week runs from March 7–13.

What are you doing to stamp out verbal slop and drivel?

This problem is universal and persistent.

You know it as soon as you hear it in speeches and presentations:

  • Sloppy, fatty, rambling sentences
  • Tarnished, tedious, tired cliches
  • Pure fluff
  • Corporate cr*p

Can you stamp it out?

Of course!

You just need to focus on it.

And that’s what this week is for.

So – just for this week – let’s double down on stamping out verbal slop and drivel: the kind of language that sometimes (inadvertently) slips into otherwise effective speeches and presentations.

Amazing public speakers know exactly how to do this.

Let’s look at some examples.

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with SHORT WORDS

“Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

~ Surrender speech by Chief Joseph, leader of the Nez Perce Indians, Montana, Oct. 5, 1877

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with SIMPLE WORDS

“We are a people in a quandary about the present. We are a people in search of our future. We are a people in search of a national community.

“We are a people trying not only to solve the problems of the present – unemployment, inflation – but we are attempting on a larger scale to fulfill the promise of America.”

~ 1976 Democratic National Convention keynote address by Barbara Charline Jordan, July 12, 1976

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with ACTION VERBS

“I am a woman’s rights.

“I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man.

“I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?”

~ “Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth, Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, Akron, Ohio, May 29, 1851

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with CONCRETE NOUNS

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?

“In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.

“Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.”

~ “The Great Question” by Eleanor Roosevelt, United Nations, New York City, March 27, 1958

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with ACTIVE VOICE

Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started.

Movies and pop culture get this all wrong.

“The idea of a single eureka moment is a dangerous lie. It makes us feel inadequate since we haven’t had ours. It prevents people with seeds of good ideas from getting started.”

~ Commencement address at Harvard by Mark Zuckerberg, May 25, 2017

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with COMPARISON

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

~ “On the Pulse of Morning” by Maya Angelou, inauguration of Bill Clinton, Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 1993

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with CONTRAST

“I would have girls regard themselves not as adjectives but nouns … ”

~ “Our Girls” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, winter 1880

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with PARALLELISM

“I reflect on the sheer waste of children taught to hate when I believe passionately children should be taught to think.”

~ Address to Irish Parliament by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Nov. 26, 1998

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with OPPOSITES

“The rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which.”

~ Speech on artificial intelligence by Stephen Hawking, Cambridge, England, at the opening of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, Oct. 19, 2016

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with WORD PICTURES

“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king … ”

~ Speech to the troops at Tilbury in the United Kingdom by Elizabeth I, Aug. 9, 1588

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with MEMORABLE LINES

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.”

~ “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” by Winston Churchill, House of Commons, Parliament of the United Kingdom, May 13, 1940

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with TURNS OF PHRASE

“ … the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

~ Inaugural address by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 1933

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with PERFECT PUNS

“To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase, the ‘U’ turn, I have only one thing to say.

You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.

“I say that not only to you but to our friends overseas and also to those who are not our friends.”

~ “The Lady’s Not for Turning” by Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Party Conference, Oct. 10, 1980

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with THE OCCASIONAL SURPRISING WORD

“Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.”

~ “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy” by Franklin D. Roosevelt to a joint session of Congress, Dec. 8, 1941

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with REPETITION

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people.

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.

“But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

~ “An Ideal for Which I am Prepared to Die” by Nelson Mandela, Rivonia, South Africa, April 20, 1964

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with METAPHOR

“So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism; let us pick up our books and our pens; they are the most powerful weapons.

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

~ “Worldwide Access to Education” by Malala Yousafzai, on her 16th birthday, July 12, 2013

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with RHYTHM AND RHYME

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:

“That even as we grieved, we grew

“That even as we hurt, we hoped

“That even as we tired, we tried

“That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious

“Not because we will never again know defeat

“but because we will never again sow division.”

~ “The Hill We Climb” by presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, Jan. 20, 2021

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with CHALLENGING QUESTIONS

“Let me make a request of the deans and the professors – the intellectual leaders here at Harvard: As you hire new faculty, award tenure, review curriculum and determine degree requirements, please ask yourselves:

“Should our best minds be dedicated to solving our biggest problems?

“Should Harvard encourage its faculty to take on the world’s worst inequities? …

“Should the world’s most privileged people learn about the lives of the world’s least privileged?

“These are not rhetorical questions – you will answer with your policies.”

~ Commencement address at Harvard by Bill Gates, June 7, 2007

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with EMOTION

“William and Harry, we all care desperately for you today. We are all chewed up with sadness at the loss of a woman who wasn’t even our mother. How great your suffering is we cannot even imagine.”

~ Eulogy on the death of Princess Diana by Charles Spencer, Westminster Abbey, Sept. 6, 1997

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with A PROFOUND IDEA

“What, then, remains to be argued?

“Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken?

“There is blasphemy in the thought.

“That which is inhuman cannot be divine.”

~ “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” by Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with ONE KEY POINT

“We choose to go to the moon.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

~ “We Choose to Go to the Moon” by John F. Kennedy, Rice University, Houston, Texas, Sept. 12, 1962

 

Amazing public speakers stamp out verbal slop and drivel with a CLEAR CALL TO ACTION

“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate.

“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

~ “Tear Down This Wall” by President Ronald Reagan, address at the Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987

 

Techniques to hone

This post identifies 22 deliberate techniques that amazing public speakers use to avoid verbal slop and drivel:

  • Short words
  • Simple words
  • Action verbs
  • Concrete nouns
  • Active voice
  • Comparison
  • Contrast
  • Parallelism
  • Opposites
  • Word pictures
  • Memorable lines
  • Turns of phrase
  • Perfect puns
  • The occasional surprising word
  • Repetition
  • Metaphor
  • Rhythm and rhyme
  • Challenging questions
  • Emotion
  • A profound idea
  • One key point
  • Clear call to action

This week, during national Words Matter Week, take up the cause to be more intentional about the language you use in speeches and presentations.

Just for this week, choose your words more carefully.

Do whatever you can to stamp out verbal slop and drivel.

Do what amazing public speakers do.

 

Do you need to create a speech or presentation that resonates? 
Work with Teresa Zumwald, an award-winning speechwriter and speech coach.
Contact us today!