Patricia Fripp, past president of the National Speakers Association — and a person who knows about clear communication — has a rule. If you attend one of her training sessions and use the words “thing” or “stuff,” you must put $1 into a charity pot.

Why? Because Fripp believes that unspecific language can ruin your message. She’s right. But I’d take it a step further: Unspecific language can leave you — and your team — in the land of undone.

Toastmasters are word aficionados, so you would think that specificity and carefully chosen language would come naturally to us! But it takes awareness and practice to break the generalization habit.

Here is a failsafe way to incorporate specificity into your everyday life and leapfrog common obstacles. Let’s start with a couple of common club scenarios.

I often hear comments such as, “Let’s put up posters to attract new members.” That’s a great idea. To take it to the next level though, it needs to move out of the idea stage and into an actionable direction. For example, “I’m getting Delta Printers to print colour posters #2 and #4 from the brand portal. I’ll pick them up on Wednesday, and on Thursday Barb, Katherine, and I will distribute them at Starbucks, Delta Rec Centre, and Thrifty’s.”

See the difference? Zero ambiguity. Everyone knows what will be accomplished.

Here’s another example. Instead of asking your team, “Can we get this in the paper?” Instead ask a team member, “When will you be sending the picture of the Humorous Contest winners along with the contest results to the paper?”

That’s 100 percent clearer. Remember: Specificity produces results.

When working with your team ask these four questions:

  • What is the specific action you want someone to take?
  • Who specifically will execute it?
  • How will they do so?
  • By what day or time?

You’ll be amazed at how much of a difference specificity will make in your team relationships, your events, your club and your personal life.

It takes time to master your language; I know from experience. Whenever I have a communication breakdown, I look back over what I’ve done to discover what I could have done differently. Nine times out of ten, the problem was a lack of clarity on my part. I’ve seen the transformative power of specificity and I’m constantly working on bringing greater clarity to my words. We’re Toastmasters — that’s what we do!

I’d like to hear from you. How has specificity helped you in your leadership role? Please let me know in the comments section.