Choose the BEST Word!

Earl Nightingale said, "If our vocabulary is limited, then our thinking will be limited." One way that we can continually become better presenters is to increase the amount and quality of our vocabulary. Words can cause problems.

In a rural part of my home state of Indiana there is the story of Ida Sue who passed away, so her husband Johnny called 911. The 911 operator told Johnny that she would send someone out right away. “Where do you live?" asked the operator. Johnny replied, "At the end of Eucalyptus Drive." The operator asked, "Can you spell that for me?"

There was a long pause and finally Johnny said, "How 'bout if I drag her over to Oak Street and you pick her up there?"

Johnny's problem was spelling the word, but we may need a different word because we can't pronounce easily the word that first comes to mind. An expanded vocabulary can help get around that problem. I've always found the word "statistics" difficult to pronounce, so I will usually say "numbers" instead.

Ideas can be clearer and more vivid when you pay more attention to your vocabulary. Instead of saying "I was confused," you might instead use words like "bewildered," "mystified," or "flummoxed."   Use or some similar resource to add to the quality of your vocabulary.

Practice new words in conversation and you will more likely start to use them in your presentations. I remember a friend who would try to use a new word in morning staff meetings and in office conversations. He would write the word on a Post-It and then try to use it several times that day. I'm sure his staff picked up on that and would guess what his new word for the day was.

You can subscribe to  MerriamWebster's Word of the Day  and learn the definition of the word for that day. Think about how you might incorporate the word in your message. Today's word is "onomatopoeia." In telling a story during a presentation, you might use onomatopoeia, as in words such as “hiss” and “dazzle.” If you want to use the word itself, you might stress that onomatopoeia draws the listener in when the word reflects the sound it refers to.

Work on your next presentation or conversation by developing your vocabulary. As Joseph Conrad wrote, "Words have set whole nations in motion…Give me the right word and the right accent and I will move the world.”


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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *