Five tips for de-cluttering your communication

By Greg Dardis / Guest Column

I received tremendous feedback on my last col­umn about how to spring clean your office. Many Iowa professionals related and shared sto­ries of tackling their own clutter.

Multiple friends whispered their appreciation for the tip about not letting their spouses see the give-away pile. Among couples, one is usually more sentimental than the other, and as profes­sional organizer Marie Kondo notes in her best­selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidy­ing Up,” nostalgia is the enemy of order. (Don’t blame me; I’m just the messenger.)

As promised, I’m happy to present part two of my spring-cleaning series. This one comes di­rectly from our wheelhouse at Dardis Commu­nications, where we specialize in public speak­ing: how to de-clutter your communication. There are so many ways to be sparser and, as a result, far more effective in how you communi­cate. Here are five:

1. To begin, get rid of filler words and non-words. Fillers are the meaningless words and phrases we repeat out of habit such as “and” or “you know.” Non-words are sounds and stutters like “um.” We land on them again and again, like a bridge that holds us momentarily as we strive to select the next real words we will utter.

It takes training to remove filler words and non-words from your speech. At Dardis Com­munications, we record clients and let them watch themselves back. It’s an enlightening exer­cise. Sometimes we become deaf to non-words, not realizing how often we use them – until we watch ourselves on video and listen specifically for them.

The heightened awareness that comes from this training goes a long way. With practice and better pacing, you can successfully eradicate all those “ums.” You’ll sound cleaner and more professional.

2. Organize your thoughts according to a roadmap. Start with a clear purpose – a vital step that is all too often overlooked. From there, build from a six-step process: an introduction, an opportunity you are addressing, a solution you are recommending, benefits, evidence and a close. Your speech will follow a natural arc that is easy to process and remember.

3. Spare us the bloody details. We do not need to – or want to – hear the blow-by-blow account. We want the headlines backed by intel­ligent analysis and occasional anecdotes. There is no better way to show respect for your audi­ence than by cutting the fat from a talk. A first draft often comes out twice as long as its final version. Consider this rule: 10 slides, 20 min­utes, 30-point font.

Be disciplined about the details you share. If you feel yourself sliding into a back story, stop yourself and offer to go into more detail later. There’s nothing wrong with a smile and a light­hearted acknowledgement like, “There’s a longer story here I’d love to share if I had the time.” A good presentation is not the last time you will speak to that audience; it’s the first. It invites ongoing dialogue, sparking a new working rela­tionship or renewing a pre-existing one. It im­presses and intrigues.

4. Use visuals to your advantage. Effective im­ages allow you to talk less while conveying more. Once you’ve completed the first draft of a speech, look it over for sections that could be replaced or shortened by a visual. Remember: 10-20-30!

5. Cut back on physical clutter. Swaying, restless hands and dancing feet can be wildly distracting. Gesture with purpose. Stand tall and move deliberately. Focus your eye contact. Con­serve your energy – and, in the process, enable your audience to focus on your message.

You’ll experience a big impact when you de-clutter your communication in these five ways: removing filler words, cutting needless details, or­ganizing your thoughts, using visuals and elimi­nating physical clutter. Happy spring cleaning!

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Communications, based in Coralville. For more information, visit