Speakers: Use concrete words to sound more credible

Don’t let complicated sentences take away from your message—or your credibility. Make these simple adjustments when you write your next speech.

Smart speakers concern themselves with credibility. While the expertise in your bio helps to introduce you, most audiences decide how credible you are after you start speaking.

The test? How concrete your language is.

The article, “Why concrete language communicates truth,” says most people think vivid details and lots of facts make a statement more credible. The article points out a catch, though:

“But all these involve adding extra details or color. What if we don’t have any more details? What if we want to bump up the believability without adding to the fact-count? Just going more concrete can be enough ….”

The solution means choosing words that reinforce the concrete nature of your statement. Here’s how:

1. Avoid abstractions in your nouns and verbs. With nouns, specificity is best. Instead of “cars,” say “Thunderbird” and instead of “breakfast,” say “steak and eggs.” Use fewer passive verbs and more action verbs. For example, say, “Ask me anything” instead of, “I was hoping you’d have questions.” Overall, use fewer adjectives and adverbs, and stick to concrete nouns and verbs. You won’t sound as if you’re exaggerating and your credibility will shine through.

2. Avoid ambiguity. Can your words be easily misconstrued? That might be due to how they sound, whether your audience understands a technical term, or using terms that mean different things in different circumstances. Reading your lines aloud to a friend will help you determine the words that will make the audience pause and think through confusing terms. Aim for simple, universal terms.

3. Add the invisible visual. The invisible visual is a description we can picture in our mind’s eye. That kind of specific, easy-to-understand description does more than any slide to make your talk memorable—and credible.

Concrete language may also help make you sound more confident, which is another credibility booster. Start analyzing your presentations and speeches, and replace the abstract with the concrete.

Denise Graveline is the president of don’t get caught, a communications consultancy. She also writes The Eloquent Woman blog, where a version of this article originally ran.

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