Speech Smarts

Are You Married to Contempt?

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Contempt is a rocky marriage between disappointment and disbelief.  Contempt is the inevitable result of doing wrong even though you know better.  Priests that molest little boys while preaching chastity and celibacy are contemptible.  Politicians who profit off the poor they claim to champion and care for are contemptible.    Speakers that are too lazy to listen and to learn are contemptible although to a lesser degree.  Cryptic, arrogant and disrespectful excuses create contempt. Let’s look at a few ways to prevent disappointment and to dispel disbelief.

Caring for your audience is best done by speaking their language.  You are a disappointment when you force your audience to come to terms with you instead of using their terms clearly.  Listeners feel cared for when you take the time to express your message in their words. The biggest trouble comes from acronyms.  Acronyms, those speedy short cuts to say complex concepts, can create lots of confusion when you audience doesn’t know what you mean.  Words which have a special meaning inside your field can confuse those on the outside.  COD could mean a fish, Cash On Delivery or Content, Organization and Delivery all depending on your definition.  Personally, I feel contempt every time a speaker turns a word in to a mnemonic acronym. Memory (meaning and emotion makes our recall yummy) may seem like a clever way to memorize and make your point.  But it comes across as contrived, confusing and childish.  Our language has more than enough words to express your message clearly so there is no need to subject your audience to imaginary meanings.

My grandfather use to say, “I used to know it all, but I have forgot a little.” As a kid that knew it all, I would smirk every time he said it.  Now I hate to admit that I have held on to the arrogance of my youth for a decade or two too long but it is the painful truth.  I confused confidence with competence.  When I spoke, my listeners resented my arrogance or felt contempt for my incompetence, and some experienced both.  When you speak like a know-it-all and you only have a casual acquaintance with your subject, you are contemptible.  Conscientious respect for your subject shared from a humble perspective is commendable.  Remain a student of your subject so you can see through your student’s eyes.  Keep learning so you always remember what it is like to learn.  It is far better to forget how much you know so your audience can feel how much you care and respect them.

Why do we act in the wrong way when we know the right way?  Because we are capable of making up and believing the most amazing excuses.  “I am not good enough.”  “It’s my family’s fault.” “I have a bad temper.”   Excuses are the worst kind of contempt, self-contempt.  When you disrespect yourself, how can you make it right?  Turn “I am not good enough” into “I can only get better.”  Change “it’s my family’s fault” to “the more I improve myself, the better my family becomes.” When you do the right thing when no one is watching, you have conquered self-contempt.  Maybe you really do have a bad temper.  Just because it is true doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do.  Begin by respecting how you are and find the right way to extend that respect to others.

Excuses are disrespectful and contemptible.  Arrogance is immature and contemptible.  Using inside language on the outside world is definitely confusing and occasionally contemptible.  Priests and politicians are self appointed ministers of belief.  Religious and political passion becomes contemptible when their spokesmen are hypocrites.  You know better. We all know better.  The challenge of contempt is to divorce our disappointment with ourselves from the need to mislead others into believing that we are not who we are.

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About the Author:

David Nemitz has designed and delivered over 10,000 sales presentations, professional development programs and executive coaching sessions for corporations and governmental organizations such as the US State Department, The French Consulate, and American Express. When he is not helping others define and refine their strengths, you can find him watching the sun set over The Magic City or strolling through The City of Light where he lives with his wife Ninette.