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Better Presentations: How to Stop ‘Rough-Drafting’ and Learn to Speak with Precision

By Marsha Hunter, writing for Attorney at Work…

When we speak, why do we so often fail to finish our sentences? Linguists must know the answer to this question, but I am at a loss. All I’m sure of is this: Lawyers find it difficult — often impossible — to finish sentences. They have some kind of built-in resistance to committing to a period. Commas, ellipses and random question marks — yes. Periods — no.

Here’s what I mean. A lawyer stands up to make a presentation to colleagues, an opening statement or a motion to a judge. She states her topic or theme, often (but far from always) in a single sentence. And then, she’s off to “The Land of the Never-Ending Sentence.” There isn’t a period to be heard for minutes on end:

“Mrs. X has been afraid for her life since the night her husband stabbed her with a kitchen knife.” (This is the complete sentence.) “Mr. X had threatened her on numerous occasions, and the police had been … uh … called to their residence more than once and in 2009 alone officers were called by … uh … by either a neighbor or the caretaker of the condos or even by Mr. X himself … uh … on one occasion, and so she has been scared and worried, especially for the … um … effect of the potential violence on her two young daughters, who she sent away to live with her … um … sister.”

And so on and on … and on.

Eventually, the story emerges from the thicket of verbal litter. Participles dangle, prepositional phrases attach themselves, as if by their own accord, to the beginnings of ideas or the end of a long-winded thought, serving only as a bridge to the next part of an excruciating, endless sentence.

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