Welcome to the world of virtual assistants. These technological developments have a profound impact on how we operate in our daily lives, but my hope is they will also help us communicate more clearly and succinctly. Here’s why:
Human beings hate uncomfortable silence. For years we’ve dealt with these breaks in conversation by using unnecessary filler words like “um,” “you know” and “like.”
These filler words now permeate all walks of speech. I hear them on TV during interviews, in speeches at conferences, in casual conversation.
Filler words take up time while speakers grab a moment to help them think about what they are going to say.
The bummer is, these filler words actually detract from the value of what you’re saying. It’s far better to take a breath and compose your thoughts before you speak, because that creates the chance for the listener to process and await the point you are trying to make. A pause here and there in a conversation or in a presentation can be one of the most powerful components of getting your point across!
Virtual assistants get confused by unnecessary words. They perform better when you provide clear direction for them.
I often joke that Siri and I do not have a good relationship because Siri rarely understands what I’m trying to say. Part of the onus for that unsuccessful relationship lies on the shoulders of Apple, which has overpromised and underdelivered on what Siri is capable of — but some of that lies with me, because I have a tendency to speak quickly and not clearly delineate what I am asking Siri to do. If I’m not clear, Siri gets it wrong.
In full disclosure, I do work in the space of virtual assistants and speech-to-text, but this is not about what I do. I realized there is a future where people speak more clearly — because I have seen that when an AI-based assistant is present, people tend to slow down their speech and become clearer.
I’ve seen that when people are aware that what you’re saying will become content for others to see and hear, they treat their speech to a higher level of quality assurance.
All this makes me think, and hope, that as an entire culture we can become more aware that what we say can become permanent. What we say has value, both in the present and in the future. What we say doesn’t need filler.
In the age of social media, this is doubly important — because what you say and what point of view you convey clearly has permanence.
I wrote a piece a few months ago saying I hoped virtual assistant companies would start to recognize and reward good manners from people speaking to machines, like a well-placed “please” or “thank you.”
Why should voice assistants add to the deterioration of modern etiquette? If we can recognize good manners, maybe we can also recognize those who speak with intelligence, patience and well-crafted words throughout everyday life.
One can only hope, right? That would be, you know, like, really great. :)