man_talking_alphabet_shutterstockI’ve been an editor, a writer, a speech maker and presenter. Through words and visuals I steer groups in their own exploration and decision-making. The more I read, listen, write and talk, the more I appreciate the distinction between powerful and mediocre communication.

The right words in the right amount pass something far more than language. They pass a feeling, an impulse, a force of awakening, an atmosphere. The words we choose matter. If you want to move someone, skip smart, pithy and clever. Instead, be real. Be clear. And be brief. For a long time I believed in thoroughness. That more words fill in critical gaps. Now I think there’s serious risk of diluting meaning, not adding to it, the more we talk.

And that leads to voice. Resonant tone (think James Earl Jones) isn’t necessary; being born that way is simply a bonus. With practice, one can feel the difference between speaking from the belly, speaking from the heart and speaking from the head. Lately I tried letting my voice drop to its lowest natural setting. What a surprising difference. It becomes rooted and grounded and stops stretching so I stay more centered. The words transmit through a different channel with less background static. They land with more umph and, interestingly, more neutrality.

There are many things in life we can’t change. Not so of words we choose, the number we use and the vocal stream we cultivate. Play with them all. Build new muscle. Every day’s a new practice field.

“Words… They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more… I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.” ― Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing: A Play