Are You a Word Economist?

Are you a word economist?

“Snakes on a Plane” was a most descriptive movie title. It left no doubt as to the premise of the movie. Whoever named that movie was a word economist.

Economy of words is an important trait of the effective presenter. Some words speakers use are unnecessary. To improve your next presentation, make every word count. What can we do to make our audiences “hang on” to every word we speak? Eliminate unnecessary words.

In most situations, don’t begin a story with, “Let me tell you a story to illustrate.”  Just start the story with “Last week I was on my way to see a client…,” or “In 1912 Teddy Roosevelt was running for president when….”  In addition, avoid previewing a joke or anecdote by saying, “Here is a funny story about.…”  Simply start the story. Let the audience decide if it is funny.

In previewing a point, do not include disclaimers such as “Let me be frank about this…” or ”To be honest…” You do not want to imply that up to that point in time you have not been frank or honest! If you want to show the importance of what comes next, say, “This next point is the crux of my message,” or “This next point is the most important for you to remember,” or ”What most people don’t know is….”

Speakers often use unnecessary words when referring to visual aids. With the screen showing the slide for all to see, the speaker does not need to say, “Right here you will see…”  Simply say, “This,” point to the slide, and share the information. “I don’t know if you can see this…” is even worse. You should know if the audience can see the visual by checking the screen or object from the most distant seat before you begin your speech.

Presentations should not include excuses. “I really did not have time to organize my thoughts as I wanted. However….” The audience will know soon enough if you have no structure! In the same category are these statements:  “I did not have the time I needed to prepare for this program.”  “I did not have a chance to check the latest data, but here is what I have available.”  These are all unnecessary and can affect your credibility with the listeners. You are communicating that you did not care enough about the audience to prepare well.

Another sentence to omit is “Before I begin my presentation I want to say…”  Your presentation begins the moment you start to speak. Make the opening words count. The same is true of “A couple of items I want to mention before I begin…”  Your opening sentence should engage the audience. When you near the end of your presentation, avoid the phrase “Before I conclude…”  Simply conclude.

Aim to be a word economist. Make every word count. In your final practice or read-through session, look for phrases and words you can omit to strengthen the impact of the words you do use. As British businessman Derek Brabazon said, “I take the view, and always have done, that if you cannot say what you have to say in 20 minutes, you should go away and write a book about it.”

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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