I’ve been looking through a variety of communication pieces and reminded of a post that I made in Sept. 2009. I think it’s appropriate to repost a modified version of it today, my first repost of the new blog/website.
In my job, I get to teach and speak, grade papers, review and write articles, work on a book here and there, and read a lot of blogs. I encounter many different styles and quite frequently run across a piece that lacks significance -even stuff I’ve written. When I read it and look beyond the description, humor, or even good research, I cannot figure out what it’s saying, let alone that it’s saying anything fresh or that challenges/changes me. I don’t know what the big idea is. And when I do, I often don’t know why it matters.
In those moments, I can hear the voice of one of my profs in my head, “Say something!” David O’Brien was my qualitative research professor and he regularly reminded us to say something in our writing. Don’t just repeat, describe, or create “filler,” but connect with the reader and propel her or him in significant directions.
Here’s the principle: When you get the opportunity to communicate with others, SAY SOMETHING.
We can write, teach, speak, and blog but we aren’t really saying anything. Admittedly, my teaching has it classroom moments where I fail to do this and it’s “school as usual.” My writing can suffer from this as well. I’ve often had to step back and ask, “So what?’ It’s informative, but why does it matter? What am I SAYING?
So, no matter the number of pages we write or the minutes we speak, the question is are we saying anything? Can you write down your main point in a single sentence that makes people want to hear more? Can we summarize what we’re writing in a short synopsis?
When I first started developing the current writing project, I had difficulty explaining it to others in a sentence or two. I remember fumbling for the words to describe it to a wise writer friend. He graciously smiled at me and didn’t say a word. I read his nonverbals and stopped. I knew and smiled back knowingly. He said, “Well, you’re not quite ready yet. You don’t know what you’re going to say.” He was right and it took me two more years to get it honed in and ready for others to consider.
In speech classes, students often fail to think through their main point and whether it’s significant. When I assign a paper that is pretty open-ended to students (even graduate students), they still ask one of the following questions:
- How long does it need to be?
- How many references do you want?
- What are you looking for?
I really would rather they talk to me about their passion for a particular topic than how they can meet the syllabus expectations for the assignment.
When you get a chance at the microphone or word processor, step back and carefully consider what you want to say…. and then say something! Learn to pay attention to your opportunities and whether you are prepared, in season or out of season, to have significant impact. Clearly, it’s difficult to do every time, but it’s worth every effort.