How big is your vocabulary? 3,500 words can make a difference

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The HME industry is beset by challenges beyond anything imagined just 10 years ago. From the implications of ACOs to competitive bidding to ZPICs, industry stakeholders, regardless of their views, must take steps to either defend or challenge these changes. In short, effective communicators are needed. Are you ready to speak your mind?

Many of us have strong beliefs about what we see happening to our businesses and its impact on patients and caregivers. However, expressing our beliefs and concerns isn't always easy. Some can readily communicate with confidence; others, not so much. Having accurate information is critical to ensuring positive outcomes, but information that isn't clearly expressed is often lost in the maelstrom. Your communication skills can make the difference between success and failure when you are trying to tell your story, whether it's to a patient, an employee or your member of Congress. 

Whether communication is a weakness or strength, we can all make improvements.

How big is your vocabulary?

The size of the average person's vocabulary has been much debated. But there is a well-established correlation between a strong vocabulary and success. According to the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation, only about 3,500 words separate the high vocabulary person from the low. Yet those 3,500 words can make the difference between success and failure. Time and again research has shown that a bigger vocabulary is linked to more sales, better jobs and more money. 

So how do you grow your vocabulary? Here are three things you can do: 

* When you come across words you don't know write them down and look them up as soon as you can. It will increase your conscious awareness of words and their uses if you make a special effort to notice these words, learn them and use them. Repetition is the key.

* Pick up a vocabulary book or CD like Verbal Advantage by Charles Harrington Elster. Make it a practice to review five words a day. You can also sign up with Merriam Webster to get a daily email with the word of the day. 

I know: You're very busy managing your business. Taking the time to look up words or read vocabulary books, while worthwhile, adds to your already heavy work load. Too much? Let's try the third tip:

* Read more: Reading will help you add to your vocabulary. In fact reading might be the best way to improve your vocabulary. 

Studies show that a 5th grader reading six minutes a day is exposed to about 430,000 words a year. If that same child read for 60 minutes a day he or she would read 4.3 million words a year. This is important because other studies have shown that people learn considerably more words by reading as opposed to hearing new words. 

How many times do you come across a word while reading that you can't define, yet you understand it in the context of the sentence or paragraph? You really can grow your vocabulary just by reading more. 

People judge you by the words you use. Every time you speak to someone they are trying to figure out how competent, successful and smart you are. Research has shown that people are more likely to be judged as competent and smart when they speak with a good vocabulary. If you want to be an effective advocate of your business and our industry, grow your vocabulary.

When you need to make a critical point, having the exact word at your command is powerful. 

How good are your presentation skills?

In our industry, many of us are being called on to present our views in public forums, including Congressional hearings. Making a presentation, whether it's to an audience of 10 or 1,000, is a skill. It's been repeated many times that fear of public speaking ranks higher than the fear of death. Maybe so, but chances are if you're reading this you are either in a leadership position or headed in that direction. It is highly probable that you will have to present your views or expertise to your co-workers, a board of directors or civic group. You could find yourself in a situation where our entire industry is counting on you.

How can you become an effective presenter? Regular practice is the best way to improve your presentation skills. One way to get the practice you need is to join a Toastmasters International group. Many well-known people from various fields, including Chris Matthews; astronaut James Lovell; and Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, have improved their skills through Toastmasters. You can learn more about this organization at 

Our industry is experiencing profound changes and facing daunting challenges. We don't have the luxury of merely hoping that our industry's top leaders alone can carry the burden and win the day. They need everyone's help. We need to keep leaders abreast of what's happening on the ground, clearly communicating what we see and what we believe. Each one of us must take responsibility for clearly communicating our patients' stories and what we are doing to improve their health and well-being. If we want to have a meaningful, positive impact on the payers and regulators that are making decisions about our future, we have to be effective communicators. In short, we have to be outspoken advocates for our patients, employees and the industry. We can only do well in the long run if we make it plain that we are also doing good.

Len Serafino is a regional vice president, respiratory sales, at Drive Medical. He is also the author of Sales Talk, a book on the role communication skills play in achieving sales success. His background also includes many years as a member of Toastmasters International.