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Communication 101

The Speech Problem

For listeners, one of the most irritating speech habits is a speaker that doesn’t enunciate clearly. When you don’t bother to pronounce each syllable of each word properly and words get slurred together, you sound uneducated. Worse, your listener has a hard time hearing you – especially if there’s other noise around you or when you’re speaking on the phone.

Dropping “g”s is one of the most common examples of poor enunciation. Say this list of words out loud:

  • Going

  • Walking

  • Jogging

  • Thinking

  • Striking

  • Selling

Did you say “go-ing” or did you say “go-in”? If you said “go-in” (or “walk-in”, “jog-gin”, etc.), you’re a G-dropper.

Be warned; this was not a fair test. Pronouncing words in isolation is very different than what we normally do when we speak.

Say these sentences out loud:

  • I’m going to have to rethink that bid.

  • Waiting to hear back from the bank is very nerve-wracking and stressful.

  • Before starting my business, I looked at a lot of different business opportunities.

  • There’s more to learning than just reading, writing and arithmetic.

Did you drop any Gs? Did you enunciate each syllable of each word?

Speech Exercise: The Mirror Face Test

A mirror is a great aid when you’re working on your enunciation. I call this the face test. When you’re enunciating properly, your mouth, tongue, lips and jaw move.

Stand in front of a mirror and watch yourself while you say, “I’m going to have to rethink that bid”. See how your lips purse and retract when you say “go-ing”? See how your lips jut out to pronounce the “b” in “bid”? This one sentence is a real face workout.

Say the rest of the sentences out loud, watching yourself speak in the mirror. Now say them all again, slowing down your rate of speech and exaggerating the facial movements.

This week, you should have a mirror session of five minutes every day. You’ll immediately notice that this practice will carry over into your “normal” speaking life, causing you to be more conscious of the way you speak and speak more clearly.


     Additional Speech Exercise: Tongue Twisters


      1) Keeping customers content creates kingly profits.

      2) Success seeds success.

      3) Bigger business isn’t better business but better business brings bigger rewards.

      4) Wanting won’t win; winning ways are active ways.

      5) Seventeen sales slips slithered slowly southwards.

      6) Don’t go deep into debt.

      7) Ensuring excellence isn’t easy.

      8) Time takes a terrible toll on intentions.

      9) Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
           A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
           If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
           Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

     10) How much wood could Chuck Woods' woodchuck chuck, if Chuck Woods' woodchuck could and would chuck wood? If     

            Chuck Woods' woodchuck could and would chuck wood, how much wood could and would Chuck Woods' woodchuck

            chuck? Chuck Woods' woodchuck would chuck, he would, as much as he could, and chuck as much wood as any  

            woodchuck would, if a woodchuck could and would chuck wood.


                                                                     Repeat this exercise as many times as you like.


Speech Exercise: Enlist a Speech Monitor

Because it’s so hard to perform naturally when we’re focusing on speaking well, the best way to determine whether or not we’re enunciating properly when we speak and stop slurring and mumbling is to enlist a speech monitor.

It’s a lot easier for someone else to pick up on our sloppy speech habits than to hear ourselves. For convenience, choose someone that lives with you (spouse, child, or roommate), explain that you’re working on your enunciation, and ask him or her to tell you whenever you drop a G or don’t speak clearly. Keep track of how often your speech monitor tells you you’ve committed this speech offense.

What you should see, as you continue to practice speaking clearly, is the number of times your speech monitor hears you speaking sloppily decrease.

Ready for the pressure situation? Ask someone who works with you regularly to be a speech monitor.

The Benefits of Enunciation

As your enunciation improves, your listeners will:

  • Form a better impression of you as you speak, thinking of you as an educated, knowledgeable person, more worthy of trust.

  • Be better able to focus on the message you’re communicating, rather than being distracted by the way you’re expressing yourself.

Speech Lesson 1 Homework Assignment

To get the most out of this course, as I said, it’s important that you do the exercises. Your speech won’t improve unless you work at it regularly.

This week, you have two tasks;

  • set aside five minutes a day where you can work with a mirror in a quiet place and practice the enunciation exercises above;

  • enlist at least one speech monitor to help you catch your speech errors.


Uh um eh Fillers


Using excessive fillers while you speak is the most irritating speech habit

Fillers range from repetitious sounds, such as “uh”, “um” and the dreaded “eh”, through favourite catch words and phrases, such as “you know”, “anyway”, “all right” and “like”. I won’t even attempt to give a full list of them here, because new fillers such as “whatever” are continuously creeping into people’s speech.

The problem with using fillers such as these when you speak is that they distract your listener – often to the point that he doesn’t hear anything you say. Your message is entirely lost, obscured by the thicket of fillers surrounding it. Think about the last time you listened to someone with the filler habit. Chances are good you spent the time he spoke either being annoyed or counting the number of times he said the filler phrase.

And with some people, that number can be amazingly high. Some people tack fillers onto the end of every sentence, and sandwich them between every phrase. It becomes, you know, really difficult for them to say anything without adding these empty additional phrases, you know?

And speech fillers are insidious. If you’re a person that uses fillers, you may not even be aware of the speech problem yourself. Fillers tend to become so embedded into our speech patterns that even once you’re aware that you’re using them, you’ll have a very hard time trying not to say them.


Guard Against Stock Responses

Stock responses are phrases that we develop over time to particular communication situations, such as statements that call for acknowledgement and nothing else. For instance, I once knew a person that responded, “Okey-dokey” whenever he was asked to do something. Now picture yourself as this person’s boss – and repeatedly having to ask him to do things. (Shudder.)

Try to vary your response to these standard situations, rather than falling back on whatever your stock response is every time. Avoid slang and “cute” phrases as you would avoid the plague. If you’re having trouble varying your responses, pick several neutral, formal phrases, such as “Right away”, “I will” and/or “Yes, certainly”, and stick to those.


Speech Exercise: The Tell-Me Game

This exercise is designed to test your speech to see if you use fillers and to identify your favourite filler words and phrases. You will need a partner.

Tell your partner the purpose of the game. His task is to identify and list all fillers as you speak. Set a timer for one minute. Your task is to speak for one minute on this topic:

  • Descibe the last trip you were in

Do NOT allow yourself any time to think about the topic. Just speak. Speaking impromptu will more closely reproduce your “usual” speech habits.

How did you do? Are you a filler user? If you are, there’s work to do to fix your sloppy speech habit.

Continue to use the Tell-Me Game to try and cut down on the number of fillers you use in spontaneous speech. Increase the time of the exercise to two minutes.


Speech Exercise: Have Your Fillers Monitored

As the only way you’re going to eliminate fillers from your speech is through constant diligence, the help of your speech monitor (or monitors) will be invaluable. Once again, explain the speech problem you are working on, and have him tell you every time you commit this speech offence in his presence. If you’re serious about breaking this sloppy speech habit, having one monitor at home and one in your work environment is ideal.

The Benefits of Eliminating Fillers

As was the case with the first sloppy speech habit you tackled, as your speech fillers decrease, your listeners will:

  • Form a better impression of you as you speak, thinking of you as an educated, knowledgeable person, more worthy of trust;

  • Be better able to focus on the message you’re communicating, rather than being distracted by the way you’re expressing yourself.

Speech Lesson 2 Homework Assignment

Your first task this week is simple: use the Tell-Me Game at least once to identify your favourite filler words and phrases.

The second task is much harder; work to eliminate the extraneous fillers in your speech. Continue working with a partner and playing the Tell-Me-Game throughout the week. Get your speech monitor or monitors involved to help catch the fillers you use.

As you become more conscious of the way you speak and practice speaking without fillers, you’ll find your filler use decrease. ***Pause intead of using these***




Speaking in a monotonous voice is a real communication killer. When the variety of your voice’s pitch doesn’t vary, it’s impossible for your listener to maintain any interest in what you’re saying. He tunes out – quickly. Once again, your message falls by the wayside.

But even if he did hear it, he probably wouldn’t believe it. People who speak in a monotone or with inappropriate expression in their voices are perceived as untrustworthy, boring, or even shifty. As a business, sales or professional person, you can see why you’d want to fix this sloppy speech problem right away!


Other Speech Problems of Expression

Now, you may be saying to yourself (with a sigh of relief), “I certainly don’t speak in a monotone!” That’s excellent news, but unfortunately, the obvious monotone, where there is no variety of pitch in the voice, is only one sloppy speech habit related to expression. A far more common problem is a lack of appropriate vocal variety, or, as I call it, tired voice.

If you have tired voice, your speech just doesn’t convey the appropriate emotional shadings and vitality that make people’s voices interesting and pleasant to hear. Think of it this way; your voice is as much a part of your signature style as the color of your eyes or the way you walk. People can identify you by these signature traits. And in some cases, people have developed “signature” voices that are grating, braying, booming or otherwise just downright unpleasant for other people to listen to – because their voices are not suitably expressive.

The good news is that having a monotonous or tired voice is not a life sentence. Everyone can change their signature voice (to some degree, barring physical complications) – just as we can change the way we walk or even the colour of our eyes.


Speech Exercise: Emotion Sentences

The purpose of this exercise is to practice getting more vocal variety into your speech, so you are going to be saying these sentences in different ways.

First, say the sentence out loud as you would if you were ecstatically happy.

Then say the same sentence out loud as you would if you were extremely sad.

  • I just got a call saying that I won a vacation in Las Vegas.

  • I’m going to have to change that light bulb.

  • Our town now has a new recycling program.

  • My next door neighbour is moving out next week.

  • I’ll be able to retire in only two more years.


Speech Exercise: Belief Sentences

The purpose of this exercise is to practice conveying meaning through expression in your speech, so once again, you are going to be saying these sentences in different ways.

First, say the sentence out loud as you would if you truly believed the statement.

Then say the same sentence out loud as you would if you didn’t believe what you were saying and wanted to convey your disbelief to your listener.

  • You’ll never regret buying one of these.

  • This extended warranty is a great deal.

  • This is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

  • What I’m doing now is the best thing I’ve ever done.

  • I am the best at what I do.


Speech Exercise: Drama Queens and Kings

The Benefits of Improving Your Speech Expression

As your voice expression increases, your listeners will:

  • Be more interested in what you’re saying and more attentive;

  • Be more likely to be receptive to you and the message you’re communicating.


Speech Lesson 3 Homework Assignment

Set aside a minimum of 15 minutes a day this week to work on your voice expression.

Start by working through the exercises on and linked to this page. You will want to go through each of these speech exercises at least three times.

In addition, you’ll want to start working with other passages. As I suggest at the end of the Drama Queens and Kings exercise, published plays are an excellent source of material for improving your expression speech skill. Reading poetry out loud is another excellent practice.

Perhaps the best source of speech exercise material is children’s books. When we read one of these aloud to a child, we tend to try out a variety of different voices and exaggerate the expression in our voices in response to the child’s response as we read.

If you have no children’s books (or children) on hand, remember that any fiction will work. Use your fifteen minutes a day to read out loud. It’s best if you read to an audience, as having an audience will help you focus on using expression to interest (and perhaps enthrall) your listeners.

Over time as you consistently practice this speech skill, you’ll find your “signature” voice change - becoming both more expressive and more pleasing.




Speaking too quickly is one of the most common speech problems – perhaps because almost all of us tend to speed up our speech when we’re stressed or excited. And when are we not stressed when we’re working? Making a cold call, meeting a new contact, working on a project with a deadline – all of these situations are stressful and cause all kinds of physiological responses, including speeding up our speech.

Some people, however, are genuine “motormouths” – people who always speak rapidly.

Speaking too slowly is much less common, but believe it or not, there are people who tend to speak naturally with a rate of speed that leaves gaps between words and drawls out syllables to extremes.

The trick to speaking at an appropriate pace is remembering that you need to speak at a rate that allows your listener to understand what you’re saying. Listening is not a one-step process; we have to physically hear what is said and then translate language into meaning. If we speak too quickly, this vital second step of the process is lost.

Like expression, the natural rate at which you speak is part of your speech signature. The problem with speaking at a pace that’s either too fast or too slow is that it interferes with communication. When you speak too quickly, you literally “blow away” your listener. He can’t mentally keep up with you and will quickly stop trying. While a small part of your message may get through, most won’t. When you speak too slowly, your listener has too much time for processing, and the mind either locks on how irritatingly slowly you’re speaking or wanders off to more interesting things.

If you hear phrases such as “Could you repeat that?” often, or often encounter glazed looks, you’re probably a person who usually speaks too quickly or too slowly.


Slowing Your Speech Down

Focusing on our enunciation when we speak is one good way to slow down our speech. When we focus on enunciating clearly,  we force ourselves to stop slurring and eliding syllables when we speak.

Another way to slow down our speech is to concentrate on phrasing. Oral speech, just like written speech, is composed of phrases and sentences. In fact, the punctuation of written speech is simply a set of sign posts to tell us how the written information should be phrased. For instance, when I wrote:

“If you hear phrases such as “Could you repeat that?” often, or often encounter glazed looks, you’re probably a person who usually speaks too quickly or too slowly,” the punctuation dictates that when you read or say this sentence, you are going to pause briefly after the question mark, pause again after the word ‘often’ because of the comma, and again after ‘looks’. The sentence should be read the same way, whether you read it silently or read it out loud.

But people who speak too quickly tend to ignore phrasing entirely. They don’t pause for commas, hyphens, question marks or even periods, jamming all the phrases together. Therefore, concentrating on the phrasing can really help slow down speedy speakers.


Speech Exercise: Practicing Phrasing

Go back to the start of this speech lesson and read it out loud, using the punctuation to guide your phrasing. Think of a period or semi-colon as a pause twice as long as a comma.


Speech Exercise: Five Step How-Tos

The Benefits of Improving Your Speech Pace

When you speak at an appropriate pace, your listeners will:

  • Be more interested in what you’re saying and more attentive;

  • Be more likely to comprehend the message you’re communicating.


Speech Lesson 4 Homework Assignment

Set aside a minimum of 15 minutes a day this week to work on your voice pace.

Once you’ve worked through the exercises on and linked to this page, I want you to continue your oral reading program throughout the week. Fiction or non-fiction will work, as long as the piece is properly punctuated. As you read out loud, concentrate on your enunciation and following the phrasing as directed by the punctuation. Those of you who enjoy a challenge will benefit from dipping into some literary classics, such as novels by Austen, Hardy, Dickens and Thackeray. The sentence structure will provide a great phrasing workout.


The next step is much harder, but I want you to start working on it right away, too. Start visualizing the punctuation before you speak. Whether you’re on the phone or talking to someone in person, before you say what you’re going to say, “see” the sentences, complete with their periods and commas, and then say it. If you can master this, the pace at which you speak will slow down considerably – even if you’re stressed.

And once again, tell your speech monitor what speech skill you’re working on this week, and get him or her to warn you when you’re speaking too quickly or too slowly.

In the next speech lesson, you’ll be taking a look at buzzwords and slang and how they can destroy communication.




We live in a world littered with acronyms, buzzwords and slang. Right now, for instance, I’m tired of people leveraging everything all over the place. A friend recently told me that she’d leveraged her portfolio. I thought she was talking about stocks, but she meant that she had a job interview. This was just a personal, minor misunderstanding. But acronyms, buzzwords and slang can cause misunderstandings that cost time and money when we’re trying to do business.

As business people and professionals, we need to be sure that we’re speaking the right language to the right people at the right time. Both slang and buzzwords are types of informal, trendy language; both obscure meaning.

Slang is “informal language consisting of words and expressions that are not considered appropriate for formal occasions; often vituperative or vulgar” or “the characteristic language of a particular group” (HyperDictionary). So on the one hand, your listener may not understand what’s said because he isn’t a member of the selective group that knows that lingo; on the other, he may understand it very well but be offended by it.

Another problem with using slang to attempt to communicate is that many of us tend to get trapped in slang time warps. Unless you live in a house with teenagers or are currently attending a post-secondary educational institute, the slang you’re trying to use is probably hopelessly out of date. (Remember the phrase, “far out”? Or “lame”? If you do, don’t admit it to anyone!)

Buzzwords are “stock phrases that have become nonsense through endless repetition” (HyperDictionary), or, if you prefer, “important-sounding words or phrases used primarily to impress laypersons” ( Currently, for example, every business under the sun is including the word “solutions” in their marketing copy and conversations, to the point that the word is just a meaningless filler.


Speech Exercise: Business Buzzwords To Avoid

Shorthand Can Shortchange Your Listeners

Acronyms are abbreviations formed from the first letters of each word of a phrase that are sometimes used as words in themselves. They’re popular because basically we’re a lazy bunch and using a set of initials rather than writing or saying several words saves effort. Some common ones are:

  • ASP - Application Service Provider

  • B2B - Business to Business

  • BAU - Business As Usual

  • BAFO - Best And Final Offer

  • RFP - Request for Proposal

  • ROI - Return on Investment

What works as shorthand in the office doesn’t necessarily translate when you’re speaking with customers or clients. Perfectly appropriate acronyms you use in-house may just be gobbledygook to clients.

I’m not saying that acronyms should never be used; just that you should use them selectively. To make it easier on yourself, set up and follow a rule never to use acronyms when communicating with customers and/or clients, no matter what form the communication takes. Clarity is worth the price of convenience.

Speech Exercise: Adding Acronyms

Return to the list of acronyms above and add at least five different acronyms – preferably ones that you are in the habit of using. As the purpose of this exercise is to start focusing on the acronyms in your speech, you may find it easier to add to the list throughout the week as acronyms crop up when you’re communicating.

The Benefits of Cutting Slang, Buzzwords and Acronyms

When you cut these from your speech, your listeners will:

  • Be less likely to feel alienated or offended;

  • Be more likely to comprehend the message you’re communicating.


Speech Lesson 5 Homework Assignment

First, complete the exercises on and linked to this page. Just by doing this, you’ll become more aware of the kind of empty, informal language that you want to eliminate from your speech.

To help you cut slang, buzzwords and acronyms from your speech, I want you to keep a Speech Diary. Each day, as you communicate with others, be aware of what you’re saying and write down any instances of slang, buzzwords, or acronyms that you use.

If you do this conscientiously, by the end of the week, two things will happen; you’ll have a list of the empty language that you personally use, and the number of times you use particular instances of the slang, buzzwords and acronyms that are weakening your communication will decrease.

Enlist the aid of your speech monitor again this week, asking him or her to tell you whenever you use slang, buzzwords or acronyms instead of real, meaningful words.

And just for fun, if you’re curious about what new buzzwords are being bandied about, or hear one that you don’t know the meaning of, has an ever-growing “buzzword-compliant” dictionary, offering definitions of everything from “alpha pups” through “zombience”.

In the next speech skills lesson, you’ll learn why what you don’t say is just as important as what you do say, as you work on Active Listening.




Assuming that you truly want to communicate with others, listening is the most important speech skill of all. Unfortunately, it’s also the speech skill that is practiced the least.

Remember the joke about the psychiatrist? There he is, in his office, with a patient on the couch. While the patient pours his heart out, the psychiatrist is thinking about his upcoming dinner.

That’s the way it is with most of us, much of the time. We’re thinking about other things instead of listening to whoever is speaking to us. There’s a grain of truth to the adage, “in one ear and out the other”, except that often the information doesn’t even enter the one ear in the first place.

It will sound strange to refer to this as a sloppy speech habit, but it is. We’re wired to listen; we just don’t bother doing it all the time.

Because we can get away with it. Most of the time, the speaker won’t know we’re not listening. As long as we continue to face him, keep a suitable expression on our face, and don’t do something blatant such as belt out a show tune, how will he know that we’re actually somewhere else entirely? He won’t.

But you do. And you’re the one that has to make a commitment to truly listening. In other words, I want you to become an active listener. To listen actively, you need to change from being a passive target to being a contributor to the communication. Make this one change, and you’ll improve your communication skills a thousand fold.


Three Techniques For Active Listening

1) Setting The Stage For Listening – Stop whatever else you are doing. Turn to face the speaker and make eye contact. If you’re standing, your arms should be held loosely at your sides. If you’re sitting, place your hands in your lap or loosely along each arm of the chair. Whether standing or sitting, do not cross your arms, which sends out a negative message. If you’re sitting, your legs should also be uncrossed. Lean slightly towards the speaker. You want your body language to send the message that you are receptive to the speaker’s message.

2) Appropriate Advancement – As the speaker speaks, make appropriate comments that advance the conversation. Just saying “um” or “ah” here and there won’t do it. You need to show the speaker that you’re actively listening to what he’s saying by making statements or asking questions that show that you’ve been paying attention. Like the next technique, summarizing, this active listening technique works well in both face-to-face and communication situations where the speaker can’t see you.

3) Summarizing - This is a particularly powerful technique for showing the speaker you’ve been paying attention whether you’re in a face-to-face situation or listening over the phone. You can use it during conversation by saying something such as, “You were saying that...” and simply restating the speaker’s last point. Its most powerful use is at the end of the conversation, when it’s “officially” your turn to respond. Start by saying, “You said that...” and then summarize the speaker’s key points, closing by adding an action statement, something you will do as a result of what the speaker has said.

For example, “You said that you don’t feel that I’ve been listening to you because I keep facing my computer screen when you’re talking, and don’t seem to have anything to add to the conversation. From now on, I’ll give you my full attention when you speak to me.”


Speech Exercise: Practice Active Listening

You will need a partner for this exercise. Return to the list of topics we used for the Tell-Me Game in Speech Lesson 2.

This time, you are going to be the listener instead of the speaker. Have your partner choose one of the speech topics and speak impromptu for two minutes. Your task is to be an active listener, and apply the three active listening techniques above. (Don’t forget to set the stage properly!)

Perform this exercise at least three times, using different speech topics and working up to a speech time of three minutes.

The Benefits of Active Listening

When you listen actively, people communicating with you will:

  • Feel more confident that they’ve actually communicated a message to you.

  • Feel more positive about you and the message you’re communicating.


Speech Lesson 6 Homework Assignment

After you’ve practiced the exercise on and linked to this page, you need to continue practice being an active listener.

Concentrate on this speech skill this week by trying to apply the three techniques of active listening to every conversation you have.

Set up a session with your Speech Monitor or with the partner that you first did your Active Listening practice with for the end of the week and go through the Active Listening exercise on this page one more time. Ask him or her to evaluate how you are performing each of the three active listening techniques explained in this lesson.


Wraping Up


You’ve now worked through six lessons designed to shape up your speech. If I’ve succeeded in my goal for this course, you’re now able to speak more confidently and better able to communicate with your listeners - and this improved ability to communicate is already translating into more success for you in your business, job or profession.

However, you know how easy it is to fall back into sloppy speech habits. We have a lot of things going on, and other things to pay attention to. If you need or want to go back and review a particular speech problem, this list of skills covered by each speech lesson will help you find the speech problem you want to go back and work on.

Lesson 1 - Stop Dropping Your Gs; Enunciation Matters (Speech Skill: Clarity)

Lesson 2 – Axe Those Fillers (Speech Skill: Clarity)

Lesson 3 – Enthusiasm and Monotones Don’t Mix (Speech Skill: Expression)

Lesson 4 – Motormouths Don’t Make Sales (Speech Skill: Pace)

Lesson 5 – Buzzwords and Slang Bury Your Message (Speech Skill: Clarity)

Lesson 6 – Active Listening Is The Most Important Thing You Say (Speech Skill: Listening)


Speech Exercise: Self-Evaluation

Think back over the course and use the self-evaluation chart in the linked exercise to evaluate your progress. (Scroll down)


Speech Lesson 7 Homework Assignment

Meet with your Speech Monitor or Monitors. Thank him or her for helping you work through the various speech exercises. Have him or her read through your self-evaluation and agree or disagree with how you’ve evaluated your progress. Then sit back and relax. You’ve completed the Speak For Success Course!

It’s my earnest hope that you’ll continue to apply the techniques and materials presented in this course. If you do, I know your speech skills will continue to improve – and you’ll reap even more benefits from being able to communicate well with those around you.


Speak For Success Course Self-Evaluation


For each of the following speech skills listed in the table below, rate your proficiency, using the following scale:

1 – extremely poor

2 – below satisfactory

3- satisfactory

4 – good

5 – excellent.

Finish this sentence:

I feel that I have made the best progress on the speech skill of _______________________________.

And this one:
The speech skill I still most need to work on is _______________________________.


Speech Skills To Evaluate

Enunciation              1 2 3 4 5

Lack of Fillers          1 2 3 4 5

Expression               1 2 3 4 5

Pace                          1 2 3 4 5

Lack of Slang           1 2 3 4 5

Lack of Buzzwords  1 2 3 4 5

Lack of Acronyms   1 2 3 4 5

Active Listening      1 2 3 4 5





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