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Verbal Seasoning: The Spicy Secret to Your Business Presentation

A friend of mine, Keith, is a very polished presenter. He delivers his argument logically, with precision and a great deal of depth. It’s rare to hear an ummm, ahhh or other verbal glitch come out of his mouth. By training, he’s a lawyer, although now he’s the CEO of a successful company. At business school, in open debate or discussion of a case study he would give such precise detailed answers that he earned the nickname speaks like books. Keith is the type of presenter we call a counselor — an eloquent speaker who likes to talk about ideas. They have an accurate and organized talk track, with relentless stream of logic that’s easy to follow. Counselors move well between big picture and detail in their presentations.

The delivery is perfect, and perfect is the enemy of good, what Laura Bergells calls the uncanny valley of presentations. In her words, “Presentation perfection is creepy. It’s just not human.”

That’s where verbal seasoning comes in. Think of it as the spice that you sprinkle through your presentation, to add zest and life to your content. Verbal seasoning is calorie free. There is no information, or at least topic-relevant information that comes with it. The goal of verbal seasoning is chemistry — to put the human element back into presenting. It’s an aside, a personal story, a pun, an attempt at humor, it’s showing your self, not your content.

At the opposite end of the scale is verbal grit. The same unpleasant sensation you have when chomping through a salad to find a piece of unwashed grit in the lettuce. When you hear frequent umm’s ahh’s and kind-of, likes, that’s grit in your teeth. For tips on how to deal with that, see the ummm word.

Verbal-Seasoning

Here’s an example of verbal seasoning. You’re running through a series of bullet points,* covering off the major features in a new product you’re launching:

  • The new A7 chip, which is twice as fast as the A6 chip.
  • Touch ID, a fingerprint scanner used to unlock the device.
  • A new, longer-lasting battery, featuring 25 more hours of standby time, and 2 more hours of talk time.
  • A new camera with new lens and F2.2 aperture, new sensor and bigger pixels.
  • New range of colors, including gold.

The list is dry and boring without verbal seasoning. Before bullet number three, add, “This is my favorite point.” The fact that the new battery is your favorite is essentially meaningless. It adds no content and no real value, except for one. We’re not listening to a soulless machine here. You are human. You have favorites. You have likes and dislikes.  For presenters that tend to love their content more than connection with their audience (counselors and teachers) it’s a valuable tool.

Verbal Seasoning and Verbal Grit in Presentations

Like any spice, verbal seasoning is overwhelming if you over-do it. Season to taste, not too much, not too little and it will be just right. You will have to gauge your audience as you go along. Just because your first little joke drew a laugh doesn’t mean you’re a stand-up comedian!

*I am not a big fan of bullet points, but let’s be real here, we all do it.

Gavin_Animated-GifGavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.

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10 Comments

  1. John Nicholas Prassas | September 18, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    A tasty reminder! See, even bad puns work every now and then…

  2. markjowen | September 19, 2013 at 12:31 am

    Reblogged this on MarkjOwen's Blog and commented:
    Brilliant post!

  3. ENNA A. BACHELOR | September 19, 2013 at 8:54 am
  4. samthatte | September 20, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Loved this article. Thanks! Shared it on FB

  5. Peter | September 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Reminds me of the words of one of the Roman master-presenters. He wrote that to present too perfectly is to risk losing your audience, and they had a technique of deliberately slipping in the odd error just to keep things human. Their three favourites… the Freudian slip, the self-reference comment, and occasionally getting your words in the order wrong so you could back up and correct yourself!

    • Gavin | September 23, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      Who was that? Is it an established rhetorical technique?

      • Peter | September 23, 2013 at 12:36 pm

        From memory I’m fairly sure it was Quintilian. The technique itself is pretty much long dead now, and that’s why this is such a great post…. you’re bringing the masters back to life Gavin :-) I’m struggling to remember, but I think the quote was about how perfection makes an audience suspicious, and therefore you should add a touch of grit (sorry!) to the oyster of your perfect presentation in order that the audience might conceive a pearl. Quintilian really loved his metaphors!

      • Gavin | September 23, 2013 at 12:53 pm

        That’s great. I think I like this Quintilian guy…

  6. Pingback: Examples for language | teachingpublicspeaking

  7. Marshall | March 21, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Picking an arbitrary bullet point to be your “favorite” doesn’t seem like a great idea. It’s still pretty dull personality-wise. But it also signals that your opinions and tastes are for sale. A favorite point leads to 2 possible conclusions: it’s earnest and you’re lame, or it’s affected and you’re sleazy. You can get away with it talking about phones and cameras, but no so much with say, industrial lubricant distribution. I’d rather be spoken to by someone who is dispassionate about their content. Like a doctor.

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