The Importance of Word Frugality

Often a person says too much instead of too little. For example, a little boy went to his mother and asked a question. She said, “Why don’t you go ask your dad?” His response: “I don’t want to know that much about it.”

In a variety of communication situations, less is better. For example, if you are using a PowerPoint presentation, don’t put 50 words on a slide. A PowerPoint slide is not the place to include the script of your message. Instead, create bulleted slides. A good reminder is the 6 by 6 rule: no more than six words in a line and six lines on a slide. That will insure that you give more information than the audience will see on the slide. You remain necessary. Otherwise, your PowerPoint gives the whole message in a boring and tedious manner.

Don’t give a lengthy answer to a “yes” or “no” question. When a person asks you a “yes” or “no” question, a “yes” or “no” is all the person is asking for. You can give a 30- second message when a question begins with “What do you think…” “How do you feel…” or “How do you…?”

If you are speaking impromptu, don’t say too much. A couple of minutes is probably enough to relate your opinion or direction that you have not thought through before beginning to speak. The longer you speak the more likely you will be to ramble or make a statement that you regret.

When you are near the end of a twenty-minute presentation and you realize you have another five minutes of excellent material, don’t keep talking. Go to your conclusion and sit down. The audience will never know what excellent material you had yet to cover and will think you are a well-organized and effective speaker because you finished on time.

When introducing a speaker, keep your thoughts under two minutes. Remember that you are not the headliner; the audience came to hear the person you are introducing, not you. This is not the place for a joke or what happened to you on the way to the auditorium. Tell the subject of the presentation, why the audience should listen, and what qualifies the speaker on that particular topic for that audience. Finally, give the speaker’s name with enthusiasm and sit down.

When Calvin Coolidge was president he was known for his frugality of words. His wife Grace told about a young woman sitting next to Coolidge at a dinner party. She confided to him she had bet she could get at least three words of conversation from him. Without looking at her he quietly responded, “You lose.” Often it is not the length, but the conciseness with which you speak that makes the message have meaning.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. Contact Steve today for priority scheduling! (859) 866-5693 or email

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