Mean What You Say – But by all Means, Say What You Mean

Good evening! How is everyone?

I love language. It has the power to inspire, educate or entertain us, but it also can be confusing or amusing, depending on how we read it or hear it. As speakers or writers, most of us choose subjects that are meaningful to us and we are very sincere in expressing that we mean what we say. However, because of the possibility and even probability that someone will misinterpret or misunderstand what we’ve written or said, we need to be careful to actually say what we mean. To illustrate, for the past year or so, I’ve noticed a large percentage of speakers walk into a meeting or onto a pulpit or platform and begin by saying, as I did –

Good evening! How is everyone? That question always fascinates me. I wonder if anyone was asked ahead of time to query, prepare and present a summary of how EVERYONE is? And, of course, the question of whether  the report will cover the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional and financial status of everyone or only one or two aspects of EVERYONE’S status? Or perhaps there might be an appointed psychic who can ‘see’ the group’s aura and give a concise report. A typical presentation has a limited time period so I’m also curious how much time has been allowed so EVERYONE will feel validated and that I don’t come across as totally self-centered and uncaring. [pause to reflect] At this point, it might be simpler if I just begin with you and let each person, in turn, tell us how he or she is – at least that way we will have a first-hand account of the individual’s status rather than some second or third-hand impersonal report.

No, as I think it over, that won’t work. In a group, even of this size, there are too many personality types. The extroverts in the room will be only too happy to have the spotlight on them and we clearly don’t have time for them to expound on all the details while the introverts will be so overwhelmed they not only won’t be able utter a word, they wouldn’t even hear about how you’re doing because their minds are going crazy trying to figure out a way to avoid having to be both seen and heard.

I know, some of you are thinking, “Good grief, it’s just a casual greeting. No one expects a response to it.” I agree, but if you say what you mean, why would you open with this empty question?

Thinking through all these possibilities reminds me of another of those things leaders say in group gatherings. How many times have you been in a meeting where the leader begins by saying, “Let’s all go around the room and introduce ourselves’? Have you ever thought about what chaos that would be? Each person getting up and walking about the room saying, “Hi, my name is Donna; what’s yours?” Except that everyone is up walking around and there’s no one waiting for your introduction; unless, of course, we do this sequentially. You (other side) get up and walk all around the room telling who you are and when you return to your seat, then it’s your turn. But then, again, I now only have 4½ minutes left for this talk, so by the time EVERYONE has gone AROUND THE ROOM, my time will be over. Clearly, that won’t work either.

I know by this time you’re thinking, “This woman’s a nut,” but I believe we all have those areas of brain playground that have us skipping off into territory the speaker or writer never intended. Again, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in church and the music minister said, “Let’s all turn in our hymnbooks …” Once again, my mind is on fertile soil and I’m busy visualizing myself inside the pages of the hymnbook turning – and, of course, I can’t just stop with turning. Cartoonlike, I’m dancing and skipping and leaning over the page to peek at what’s underneath.

Or what about the woman talking about the singer she heard at a preshow for another performer. She said this singer was so into her performance she was swaying from side to side of the stage. Oh, my! The visual is just too entertaining. I don’t know whether to see a stage that is a 24-inch square or a woman whose girth measures 30 feet across.

Then there was the Florida vacation hotel described as being ‘directly on the Atlantic Ocean.’ And no, it wasn’t an ocean liner. I wonder if their mattresses serve as floatation devices.

Just last week a funeral home was presenting about pre-arranging funerals so loved ones wouldn’t have to take care of those details in those first hours of their bereavement. One of the funeral planners identified himself as a prearranged funeral specialist. Even in so serious a subject as funeral planning, I’m chuckling while wondering what parts of him were prearranged – just hair and clothing or are we talking about arms and legs or maybe his head spins and you never know where it will stop.

I’m not sure if there’s any hope to keep me out of my brain playground while you’re speaking, but I would encourage you to give it a try by not just meaning what you say, but also by saying what you mean.

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