Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, God of Bauhaus, once said, Less is more. Less is more is not only a golden rule for architecture à la Bauhaus. Less is more is also a golden rule for public speakers. The less you say, the better your speech.
One of the most important speeches of modern times has 273 words only. Abraham Lincoln clearly understood the concept of saying less. Yet, in public speaking we’re very good at doing the exact opposite. We use filler words; conjunctions like so, well, and, but. We use filler sounds like ems and uhs. We use message reducers like actually, potentially or hopefully. We stretch our speech content like a six year-old boy stretches his bubblegum.
But there’s one specific content brake that you can release right away.
Storytelling expert Peter Zinn and I were sitting on two bar stools at a Toastmasters conference in Anwerp, Belgium. I was telling Peter about this hardly audible content brake. He told me that he calls this pattern meta speech. Thank you, Peter – finally, I had a name for it!
What is meta speech?
Here are some typical phrases:
- Before I start with my presentation, let me share a little anecdote with you.
- Let me go back to the beginning.
- Let me conclude.
- Let me summarize.
- I’m going to tell you a story.
- I’m going to tell you a joke.
- I’ll give you an example.
All these phrases you can cut them out. They have no value at all. Don’t tell me what you’re going to tell me; tell me! Start with the anecdote, go back to the beginning (we, the audience, know that you’re going back to the beginning!), conclude, summarize, tell me the story, tell me the joke, give me the example.
Telling the audience what you’re going to say is meta speech. Without meta speech your speech content is crisper, sharper, more to the point. Therefore, you, the speaker, have one challenging task; kill your meta speech!
Mies van der Rohe was right. Less is more, but less meta speech is much more!
My least favorite example of metaspeech (thanks for introducing me to the word): “I don’t have much time, so I’ll keep my remarks short…”
Oh yes, a classic!! The paradox is that, by saying it, they take out more time from the time they don’t have.