If you use weak words, you weaken your message. So to make what you say more vivid and compelling, you should rarely use words like “very” or “really”.
For instance, instead of saying “very good” or “very bad”, you could use stronger adjectives – like “superb” or “awful”.
That’s what well-known public-speaking blogger John Zimmer wrote recently, and I agree.
In fact John shared a handy list of almost 150 words you could use when you’re tempted to say “very…”. (The list was originally compiled by Jennifer Frost.)
Does that mean you should never say “very…”? No, it doesn’t. As John says:
“[Very] has its place when used sparingly”
To my mind, that’s because sometimes when you avoid “very”, you might cause 1 or more of these 4 problems, where you choose a stronger word that:
- Is over-used.
- Conveys slightly the wrong meaning.
- Isn’t conversational.
- Confuses the audience.
For instance, do you know what “indolent” means? I didn’t, and if you used that word in a talk, I think many people (perhaps most) would wonder what you meant. (It means “lazy”, and it’s in the list of 150 suggested words John posted.)
In fact (depending as always on your audience) some listeners might even have trouble with words in the list that are probably commoner than “indolent” – like “exasperating”, “serene”, or “sage”.
Even in this post, I was tempted to say the word-list John shared was “very handy”, because “handy” seemed too weak by itself. Yet alternatives like “vital”, “indispensable”, “neat”, or “nifty” had problems of their own – having slightly the wrong meaning, being less conversational, being ambiguous, or possibly confusing some of my overseas audience.
So, here are 5 techniques you could use (alone or combined) when you’re tempted to use phrases like these:
“The box was very heavy” or
“The box was really heavy”
|Technique||Example: Instead of saying “The box was very heavy” you could…|
|Synonym||Say “The box was hefty”|
|Exaggeration||Say “The box weighed a ton!”|
|Metaphor||Say “The box was heavy – like carrying a corpse”|
|Vocal variety||Say “The box was heavy!” (strongly emphasising the key word)|
|Body language||Gesture as though carrying a heavy box, perhaps adding a strained facial expression (or biting your lip)|
Now you’ve seen the techniques and examples – plus my reasons for suggesting them – it’s over to you:
- How important do you think it is to avoid words like “very” or “really”?
- What other techniques might you use?
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