John Oliver Tackling Roger Goodell: A Lesson on Vague Language

If you watch the show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (or at least the segments of it posted on YouTube), you might have come across the following clip:

Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, gave a press conference on how the NFL will handle domestic abuse incidents among its players.

However, this proved to be a waste of time, as Goodell avoided specifics. He made noble-sounding statements comprised of generalities.

On the one hand, this might have been a beneficial approach for him to take legally, as nothing could be pinned on him later on. However, even when being evasive for legal purposes, there are ways of sounding more substantive and less vague.

Vagueness inspires a number of negative reactions:

  • Contempt
  • Mockery
  • Disappointment
  • Lack of trust

And there’s a lesson here for your own writing. People crave information. If you’re writing or talking in circles, offering nothing they can hang onto, they will be less likely to trust you and your business.

When relevant, offer facts, statistics, or specific examples. Lay out your objectives in clear terms. Use concrete details. Even the kinds of words you choose can affect the perceived vagueness of your language (for example, saying “sort of” or “kind of” weakens the force of your text).

Have a good laugh at John Oliver’s video. But also remember it as a lesson on being less vague in your speech and writing.

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