Sawubona: See your audience

I recently wrote a post for Presentation Guru on the importance of “seeing” your audience.  It was based on the Zulu word sawubona. Zulu, or isiZulu, is one of South Africa’s official languages and is spoken by approximately 10 million people.

Sawubona means, “I see you.” Not in the sense of, “I see you here in front of me, and I see that you are wearing blue jeans and sweater, and I see that your skin is brown and your eyes are hazel.” Sawubona means much more.

At its heart, sawubona means, “I see you. I see that you have ancestors and a culture and a history. I see that you have hopes and fears, wants and needs, dreams and ambitions. I see you for who you are. I see you and I respect you.”

Sawubona has been described by worker and community leader Orland Bishop as an invitation to participate in each other’s life. Sawubona, he says, obligates people to give to each other what is needed for that moment of life to be enhanced.

When you speak to an audience, the members of that audience are giving you their most precious commodity; they are giving you their time. If you speak to 100 people for one hour, you are being given 100 hours of time that those people will never get back. That is an incredible responsibility and you owe it to your audience to make that time worth their while. You have to give them something in return. You have to be there for them.

To read my post on Presentation Guru and learn some simple ways in which you can apply the principle of sawubona when you speak, just click this link.

Shortly after that post was published, I went to Barcelona for my annual teaching week at IESE Business School. While there, my good friend Conor Neill had his trusty video camera and we shot a number of short videos, including the one below. In it, I talk about sawubona.

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Grammar: “Less” is more except when it’s “fewer”

This post is part of a series on grammar and vocabulary. From time to time, I will post short articles highlighting some of the common mistakes that people say during their presentation or write on their slides, and how to avoid them.

Comparisons often appear in presentations. We compare the company’s performance this year to its performance last year; we compare the prices of raw materials from different suppliers; we compare weights and distances and power and speed and a whole host of other things.

When the first thing in a comparison is greater than the second, we use the word more:

  • More coffee
  • More customers
  • More sand
  • More money
  • More vehicles

However, when the first thing in a comparison is less than the second, there are two words at our disposal: less and fewer. And on this point, many people run into trouble, mainly because they use less when they should be using fewer.

While there are some exceptions—this is English after all—the general rule is as follows:

Use “fewer” when the thing can be counted.

Use “less” when the thing cannot be counted.

So, there is less pie but fewer pieces of pie; less distance but fewer kilometres; less snow but fewer snowflakes (because, in theory, you could count the snowflakes).

Looking at our list above, we would have the following:

  • Less coffee
  • Fewer customers
  • Less sand
  • Less money (because money is a collective noun; of course, you could have fewer Dollars, Pounds, Euros, etc. but you can’t have “fewer money”)
  • Fewer vehicles

As mentioned above, there are exceptions and subtleties to the rule. If you are interested, you can read more here and here.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage (a must for anyone who does a lot of writing in English) laments:

Regrettable, but prevalent among some standard as well as many non-standard speakers, is the use of “less” with an unprotected plural noun. … The incorrect use is very widespread and seems likely to be ineradicable, however regrettable that may be. As a character in Maurice Gee’s Prowlers (1987) sadly remarks: “Like”, it seems, has taken the place of “as if”. “Less” tips “fewer” out. Less pedestrians, less immigrants.

So the next time you go grocery shopping and you see a cashier beneath a sign that reads, “10 items or less”, you will have the small satisfaction of knowing that it should read “10 items or fewer”.

I confess that after all these years, “10 items or fewer” would sound strange to me and I will stick with “less”. But even corporate giants such as Tesco have bowed to pressure on this point.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 286) – William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) English Playwright, Poet and Actor

“Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood.”

— William Shakespeare

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Be prepared to cut your ending short

I have written in the past about managing your time when giving a speech or presentation. One of my tips in the link above related to being prepared to cut material if necessary:

Have a plan to cut material. Logistics will not always be within your control and your speaking time might be unexpectedly reduced. If you are told, 20 minutes before you begin speaking, that your scheduled one-hour presentation must now be delivered in 45 or even 30 minutes, can you adjust quickly and calmly? You should know which material to cut. If you have a slide presentation, you should also be able to open Slide Sorter (in PowerPoint) or Light Table (in Keynote) and know exactly which slides to pull.

That advice relates to planning ahead to cut material. Today, I want to talk about a specific situation that might lead to a snap decision during your talk to cut material.

The situation I have in mind is one that sometimes occurs just before the end of a speech. The speaker is in the process of concluding and says something that elicits an unexpected big applause from the audience. In most cases, this will be because the audience thinks that the speech has ended. In such cases, it is almost always the right decision to abandon whatever final words you had prepared, especially if there is nothing revelatory about them.

Most speakers will continue with their prepared conclusion and go right to the end. I have even seen speakers say something along the lines of “I’m not finished yet.” In every case that I witnessed, the effect was one of anticlimax.

I recently saw an example of this on an episode of the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. There was a special guest appearance by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show fame. Stewart delivered a satirical monologue on the Trump Presidency.

The monologue ebbed and flowed between humour and seriousness. At 6:55 of the video below (which I have set to start at 6:55) Stewart began to deliver his conclusion. At 7:22, he ends on a powerful sentence—”This we cannot do”—and the reaction from the audience is equally powerful.

But rather than stopping there, Stewart tried to talk over his audience (without success) to squeeze in a final line and some joke about the Democrats. He didn’t even get to finish; Colbert had to cut him off for the advertisement break. It would have been better to cut the prepared ending at 7:22 and let the applause run.

Nobody would have known (or cared) that Stewart had a few more words to say. The sentence, “This we cannot do” makes it abundantly clear what Stewart’s position is. Had he really wanted to get in his final line—”And by not yielding, we will prevail”—which he clearly did, it would have been better to wait until the applause died down. (I recognize, of course, that on national television with advertising pressures, one does not always have the luxury of time.)

If you are approaching the end of your speech and you get an amazing round of applause, use the time during which people are applauding to ask yourself a question: Do I have anything left to say that is so fundamental to my message that I have to say it? If the answer is No—and given that this is your conclusion, the chances are that the answer will be No—then cut the speech there and then.

And enjoy the applause.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 285) – Brent Kerrigan

Brent Kerrigan – Brent Kerrigan – Canadian Speechwriter and Founder of Global Speechwriter

The cold truth is that audiences remember little about any speech. We may believe they have an infinite ability to remember our funding analysis and statistics, but they will remember one or two points, at best. We must therefore present information in a way that is not only easy to understand, but also easy to remember.”

— Brent Kerrigan

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