I’m sure you’ve had the experience of listening to someone give a speech or presentation and found yourself losing interest. The subject may interest you; it may be one you want to know more about, but you can’t keep your attention on the speaker. The same thing happens when you can’t write to keep your reader’s attention
You don’t enjoy this when you’re the listener, but it’s far worse when you’re the one speaking and you sense the audience’s attention drifting. This may be people’s deepest fear about speaking—that they will bore their audience to tears or sleep.
Similar problems can plague your writing. When you write a report, a blog, or other documents related to your company, you may get negative feedback. Those who read it may say you didn’t make your points clearly. They may point out multiple areas where they didn’t understand what you saying. Or, possibly worst of all, you hear only the sound of crickets.
Would-be authors have a similar fear. They imagine someone picking up their book, reading a few pages, and then closing it—forever. The writers don’t see people doing this, but harsh critiques, poor reviews, and flagging sales can damage their tender egos just as thoroughly. The writers agonize about whether they can write to keep their reader’s attention.
Lack of favorable feedback for verbal and written communications make people think that they’re not strong leaders—especially if they can’t even hold people’s attention. Maybe they don’t know what they’re talking about. They almost feel that they’d rather retreat into obscurity than suffer the humiliation of people not paying attention to what they speak or write.
So often, both speaker and writer have made the same error: They say too much.
Too Many Words—and the Wrong Ones When You Can’t Write to Keep Your Reader’s Attention
Although many speakers and writers make the mistake of taking on too many topics for the allotted time or pages, I’m not addressing that issue here. The problem I’ve seen defeat so many efforts at communication is loading verbal or written text with filler phrases.
I cover this subject in detail in my book, 52 Writing Tips: Fast and Easy Ways to Polish Your Writing. In this post, I will describe some of the main offenders to give you an idea of how easily, with a little knowledge, you can make your speaking and writing interesting and even compelling.
Examples of Boring Writing
“So, I kind of just stumbled across this effective solution to absenteeism.”
Any manager would like to know about this solution, but many listeners tune out after “So, I kind of just stumbled.” These words convey uncertainty and insecurity, and the phrase, “effective solution,” gets buried.
Replace that phrase with “I discovered an effective solution to absenteeism,” and people will listen or read on.
“Actually,” “really,” and “definitely” are other words that induce skepticism and boredom. They’re intended to reinforce that something is true, but having to reinforce this truth has the opposite effect. It falls under the category of protesting too much.
52 Writing Tips goes into detail about this tricky word form. Some examples include:
“She was really smart.” (Many adverbs end with “ly.” Look for that.) Say or write instead, “She was brilliant.”
“They moved quickly to meet the deadline.” Say or write instead, “They rushed.”
“Moved” and “rushed” are both verbs, but “rush” has much more power. You have an image of someone moving with speed and purpose, pushing him- or herself to make it first across the finish line. Whenever possible, replace a adverb/verb combination with a more powerful verb.
Read Your Transcripts
When they are available, read transcripts of your speeches and podcasts. You might find this embarrassing, but you will learn to spot the fillers on which you rely. So often these drift into your writing because they’ve become part of how you speak.
Everyone has bad speaking and writing habits, but you can correct them easily. All it takes is a little awareness and the desire to have your speech and writing reflect your abilities. You need to write to keep your reader’s attention. You are a leader, and effective communication can express that to your world.
Pat, as a writer and editor who has worked with many clients, knows that anyone can improve their writing. In Why Become a Better Writer Today? How Writing Skills Help You Thrive, she describes what it takes to become a competent writer.
- Passion for your subject,
- The ability and willingness to do research,
- The commitment to get the writing done,
- The willingness to learn grammatical skills,
- Patience with yourself and the process of writing.
Pat Iyer has been a business writer since she started her legal nurse consulting business in 1987.