Is rambling speech hurting your career?

Six tips to more concise and memorable communications

Imagine if the next phone call you get is a reporter from a national business publication interested in your company story. Or, what if at lunch today you run into that big sales opportunity you’ve been stalking – you know, the one who could put your company over the top? 

Are you ready, or would you choke?

Believe it or not, the biggest risk isn’t forgetting part of your story. The real threat to these golden opportunities is talking too much.

In today’s digital age, listeners are more distracted than ever before. According to a Microsoft study, the average human attention span is only 8 seconds. On top of that, most listeners recall only 50 percent of what they have heard immediately after hearing someone say it! This is according to a study by Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson published in American Scientific magazine. The same study also found that people are distracted, forgetful and preoccupied 75 percent of the time.

The science is compelling here. You can’t afford to ramble on and on. People are already distracted. Too much blather will give them the excuse they need to mentally check out.

Executive leadership coach and celebrated author Lolly Daskal made this observation:

“If you go on and on to convey a simple idea, people will stop listening. It’s as simple as that. Think of ways to keep your message compelling and concise to keep their attention… Don’t overload people with too many details. Keep your message simple and focused on the point.”

So, what can you do to stop rambling and make sure your listeners retain the most important parts of your story? In my 25 years of creating message strategies and training executives to deliver better media interviews, I’ve come up with a few tips to keep it short and sweet:  

  1. Know your purpose. Lack of purpose is one of the main reasons people ramble on.Before deciding on your message, think carefully about what you want your listener to think, feel, say or do as a result of your pitch or interview answers. This focus will help you craft a compelling pitch with a powerful call to action. For more on this topic, see my blogpost: “Define Your Purpose for More Powerful Communications.”
  2. Know your audience. What’s important to your audience? What you say needs to help solve a problem or fulfill an aspiration for your listeners. They should see themselves as the main protagonist of your story. Focus on aspects of your story that matter to them.  
  3. Know your story.  Don’t try to drown your listener with every detail. They won’t retain it. Instead, think about your value proposition and what makes you different. Ask yourself what you want to be known for. Whittle it down to three or four key messages that are no more than one sentence each – this is your story.
  4. Pick your proof points. Proof points can be a logic statement, statistics or data that support your key messages. However, proof points only play a supporting role. Don’t allow them to upstage your key messages. Sprinkle them in sparingly. People likely won’t remember your proof points, but if strong, they will help people believe your story.
  5. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repeat your key messages multiple times throughout the conversation. The more a person hears something, the easier it is to remember and accept it. Legendary orator and former U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”
  6. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. There’s only one way to perfect the delivery of your story: rehearse! Use your phone’s camera to record, review, critique and repeat until you get it right. Time yourself to keep it short. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to critique your delivery. Look for ways to shorten your answers and insert your key messages again and again. Rehearsal will dramatically improve your confidence, charisma and effectiveness.

These tips and exercises will require you to invest time in preparing, but I promise you will say more with fewer words and get better results.

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