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A popular topic of conversation in my leadership work with women is this: “Is it true that women say three times as many words as men in a day?”

In my research, I’ve found a wide array of statistics – some support that question, others outright refute it, and still others conclude that it depends on the context.

My take is this:

What matters more is not the number of words you use, but how you organize and articulate your thoughts in professional situations.  Much of our leadership credibility hinges on how well we’re able to do that.  This isn’t necessarily gender-specific, but since I work primarily with emerging women leaders, I do notice it as a common issue.

Dr. Lois Frankel, Ph.D., my mentor and author of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, dedicates a chapter of her book to this concept, titled How You Sound.  There are two common mistakes she covers and calls “lethal” in combination – using preambles and over-explaining.

Let me explain, without over-explaining.

Do you hajunk drawerve a junk drawer in your house?  Of course you do, we all do!  It’s messy, jumbled, and you can never find the one thing you’re looking for.

Now think of that junk drawer in terms of communication.  Preambles and over-explaining are the junk in the drawer, hiding the one thing your audience is looking for – your reason for communicating with them, our point.

To define a preamble – that’s the lengthy setup we sometimes use before getting to anything resembling a point.  It might contain substantive words, but it’s also non-words like “You know,” “I mean,” “You might consider,” or “I was thinking.”

  • To define over-explanation – once we finally get to our point, we continue with all kinds of extra information that isn’t necessarily needed to support our point.

Using preambles and over-explanations hurts our leadership credibility.  How?

  • Too many words obscure our message, ultimately robbing it of its power.   We can appear to be less knowledgeable and confident than we are.
  • We lose our audience because they can’t follow our message.

We’ve all had times where we’ve used preambles and over-explaining.  But it’s when we use these crutches as part of everyday habits that it can become a leadership liability.

If you want to add power and punch to your communication, below are some tips to help you clear the junk drawer:  clear the junk drawer

  • Think of every interaction as an opportunity to practice – written and verbal messages, in-person or virtual.
  • Before you speak, pause and take a breath.  Decide on the one key point you’d like to make. (That pause will feel like an eternity to you, but your audience won’t notice.)
  • Once you’ve made your point – add only a couple of concise supporting points.  Concise is the key here.  If someone would like more information they will ask, or you can follow-up.  The human brain can only hold a few pieces of information at a time in short-term memory.  So make sure the pieces you share are the meaty ones!
  • When writing, use bullets and short sentences.
  • To quote Dr. Frankel, “Let your mantra be:  Short sounds confident.”

Ready to learn more?

Visit for more information about custom training solutions and professional development services offered by Impact Instruction Group.  Amy Franko works with emerging women leaders, teaching concepts from the international best-seller Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office to many national companies and organizations.

© 2011 Impact Instruction Group

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