Vague Language

Last night I watched “The Book of Eli”… I know… I know…not much of an ‘early adopter’.

I hate lines.

Because of this I tend to see movies long after they have left the theatre…

Anyway—when the movie opened not a word was spoken for the first ten (estimate) mins. I’m not sure because I was so involved in the opening…I didn’t want to miss any of the very little details that were shared.

It was completely silent except for some sound effects of the weather…breathing…basic moving sounds.

There is a lot of things we can learn from this about drawing in your audience…creating anticipation and story telling.

In persuasive speaking there is a technique referred to as ‘vague language’.

Here’s the main idea: you deliberately leave out the intend or meaning or certain parts of the point… the audience will ‘draw their own conclusions’… they will create their own meaning… and remember if we (the speakers) tell you something… you will search for evidence to prove it wrong… but if YOU (the audience) say it or think it…IT IS THE TRUTH.

In the beginning of the movie there was lots of ‘vague information’ revealed…

It appeared to be hot and dry…seems to be ashes everywhere…desolate…not many people…a hairless cat-like creature was prime food…using a bow as a weapon…had some bullets…destruction everywhere…dead bodies…he appeared to be running solo…didn’t say a word.

With this limited information EVERYONE in the audience was left to draw their own conclusion about what it all meant…

Everyone is wondering what happened?

That’s how our minds work..everything we hear or see (we delete, distort or generalize)…and then, we create a meaning.

A skilled presenter can use this to his/her advantage.

When constructing your talks include certain parts where you tell them just enough information to get their minds going but not enough to do the ‘thinking’ for them.

This is a technique to get the audience involved…knowing when and where to use this type of strategy is more of an art than a science.  If you use it too much your audience will get bored or frustrated…

But, if you go to the other extreme (where most presenters live)… and data dump and tell them how and what to think…you don’t get audience buy-in…and you aren’t ‘interesting’.

Who are some masters of vague language?

Think about who are some the people that have to speak in public often and please as many people as possible and will USE ANY ADVANTAGE THEY CAN GET.

Yep, you guessed it…politicians!

It is also beloved of politicians that want to talk for hours on end without actually saying anything. They will often leave huge gaps knowing that the listener will fill them in with what’s relevant to them.

That’s why two people can come away from listening to the same speech with wildly different opinions about what was said and/or meant. Both believe firmly they were right and even if you showed them the speech again would see the bits they wanted to see that supported their currently held belief.

There’s that deletion, distortion and generalization again — we all do it.
We have all heard some form of the saying…”you can’t please everyone”…right?

Well, a politician’s whole job is to please and influence as many people as they possibly can.  That is why they often speak out of both sides of their mouth.

If they were to give great detail and take a very specific stance they are bound to upset a portion of their constituency…so they release statements that are very, very, very well written ambiguous statements…just enough information to satisfy the question of ‘what’…which creates hope…but seldom answering the ‘how’…which would create accountability.

Simple enough concept, right?  Let’s see if you got it.

Tell me how I used this concept in this blog post.

Living, Loving, Giving Large



  1. John on November 19, 2012 at 5:56 am

    Ummm….the article starts with a vague reference to who wrote it – “Jeff”. Jeff who? It ends the same way. We may THINK it was written by Jeff Paro, but the astute observer is left to wonder.

    Oh. And we don’t know if you had popcorn.

    • jeff on November 19, 2012 at 6:02 am

      Very Sigman!! Very Sigman!! Thanks for the profound thought.

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