OnWords: Number One, Number Two

Dec 10, 2019

There is nothing wrong with numbering off talking points while speaking publicly. It helps listeners keep track of what you’re saying, helping the audience make sense of it, especially when tackling complex issues.

But what I’ve noticed lately are speakers listing off “number one” after they’ve made their first point.

For example, an interview subject might begin a statement by saying “We’re going to conduct a thorough investigation of the theft of Lizzo’s flute, number one. Number two . . . .”

Listing points this way allows people speaking extemporaneously to give the impression that they are well organized and have all their talking points planned out, that they are totally not just making it up as they go along.

Yet there is nothing wrong with making it up as you’re going along when you’re speaking off the cuff: indeed, it’s expected during interviews, public meetings, or the myriad chance encounters with potentially viral video created by contemporary life.                                                                                       

Ironically, labeling the first point after it’s made draws attention to the extemporaneous nature of what people are saying, making speakers seem less prepared rather than more.

Maybe this phenomenon comes from the pressure people who speak publicly feel to be on message and to never slip up: a misstatement can be seen worldwide in an instant.

Sadly, in doing so we lose the nature and promise of unplanned speech: saying one’s peace directly and with authenticity.