2. a persistent or recurrent behavioral trait; personal quirk: his distinctive verbal tics
I suspect this is a widely shared experience: you’re listening to a speaker, taking in the message, when suddenly you find yourself counting the times the speaker repeats the same useless word. You’ve just been distracted by a verbal tic.
By “useless” I mean a word that that the speaker utters habitually which adds nothing to the message. Basically, it’s a word that has no reason to be there – like the first word in this sentence, whose only purpose here is to point out one of the most frequent offenders.
I experienced this recently in an otherwise excellent and informative presentation. This speaker’s verbal tic was the word “again,” as in, “Again, your marketing plan is an essential part of your business plan.”
This particular verbal tic is common enough that a listener might be expected to build up an immunity. Even so, it detracts from the message. When I hear the word “again,” my analytical mind tries to loop back to what was just said in order to identify what, precisely, is being repeated and why. As often as not, nothing is being repeated – the word simply slipped into the flow out of habit.
If I were coaching this speaker, after making him aware of how frequently the verbal tic occurred (preferably by watching a recording), I would ask him to look at each occurrence with these questions in mind:
- When I said “again,” was I actually repeating something I had said before?
- If so, was the repetition intentional – as for clarity or emphasis – or unintentional?
If the answer to the first question is “no,” then the speaker is introducing new information with the word “again,” which, besides being nonsensical, indicates a wasted opportunity for a strong transition to the next point, to wit: “In contrast to your overall business plan, your marketing plan is something that…”
But if the first answer is “yes,” then the speaker has a different problem to solve: why was I repeating myself? If I was going in circles, was my audience lost as well? If so – that is, if the repetition was unintentional – then the solution is more attention to structure. After all, we in the audience were there and heard you repeat yourself, so why call attention to it?
Finally, if the repetition was intended for clarity or emphasis, then the importance of the repetition is lost on us if you water it down with “again.” Instead, simply repeat the point, with the emphasis made clear by a slight shift in tone or pace. Simply repeat the point.
If you re-read the last paragraph aloud, you will see what I mean. Now read it a second time, but this time start the last sentence with, “Again…” Do you agree that this weakens the message?
How do you know if you have a verbal tic? The two best ways to find out are to record and watch yourself, or to engage a coach who will hold up a mirror to your habits. Either way, it starts with your wanting to become a more effective presenter.