I earn my living as a conference interpreter, which means that I spend a lot of my time having words enter my ears through earphones and words in another language coming out of my mouth, in the constant hope that there will be some relationship between the two flows.
Often, while engaged in this activity, I have been struck by how many different styles of public speaking there are. And once, at a meeting where people kept on referring to business ratios such as: ROA, return on assets: ROE, return on equity: ROI, return on investment (there are several more), it occurred to me that there was another one we needed – ROW – return on words.
ROW by the way is pronounced the same way as what you do with oars to propel a boat.
I haven’t quite worked out the mathematics yet, but this is basically the formula:
Just to give you an example, here is a sentence which I have heard about a thousand times at the opening of a conference:
We have been able to organise everything splendidly except, unfortunately, for the weather.
This has a ROW of 1/13 or 0.077.
Whereas a more succinct phrasing of the meaning:
It is raining.
scores you an impressive 0.333 ROW.
It would be useful I think for public speakers to be listed with their ROW next to their name, like a batting average, that way you could tell how carefully you need to listen to someone even before they open their mouth.
Some people have an ROW which is amazingly close to zero. Repeating the same concept over and over again is one way to achieve that. At times, when I have been exposed to this kind of speaking, I have thought that it might be a good idea to put a price on words, so that the more you use the more you would have to pay. One drawback is that this would mean that the rich would have a near monopoly on expression.
As an alternative, about a day – every month or even just once a year – on which words are rationed? You would be allocated a fixed number for a twenty-four hour period. It would be interesting because each of us would have to choose what we felt were the most important to say. And this would probably give us some appreciation of what the most important things in our lives are.
What about you? Are you high-ROW or low-ROW? Get your ROW checked today.