Use Audience Satisfying Language

You can make your presentations more powerful and get greater audience response by crafting and using audience satisfying language. Speak in a manner that impresses, energizes, and motivates your audience. Choose words and forms of expression for maximum audience impact.

  • Use concrete and descriptive words. "Prefer the specific to general, the definite to the vague, and the concrete to the abstract." (The Elements of Style). Specific words that deal in the particular, that relate the detail that matters, that call up a picture render speech more precise, crisp, and vivid.
  • Use the active voice. The Nike motto "Just do it" works; what wouldn’t work is "it should just be done by you." The passive voice is common in speech and implies simply that—passivity. The active voice conveys directness and vigor. Use the active voice.
  • Short sentences, please. Don’t use sentences comprised of many attached clauses. One thought; one sentence. Avoid connectors like "so," "then," "anyway," or "but" to string together thoughts and sentences. Don’t ramble on. That only confuses your audience. See the period as your friend. It is an opportunity to pause for effect.
  • Eliminate unneeded words. "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that all sentences be short or all details avoided or subject be treated only in outline, but that every word tell." (The Elements of Style).
  • Be clear. People hear the spoken words "on the fly." To help them understand it, make it clear. Eliminate ambiguity unless you need or want to be ambiguous. If you are not clear, the audience will likely tune you out or if not, misunderstand your message. Strive so that what you mean is what you say and what you say is what the audience hears.
  • Usually make the message conversational. Talk to, not at, your audience. For most occasions, speak as if you were talking with a friend over coffee. Use the language and tone of a conversation rather than the formality of an "address." Be engaging and interactive.
  • Speak in the first person (and the plural whenever appropriate). The first person builds connection and rapport with an audience. Using "I" achieves this so long as "I" is not overused. Also, use the plural "We" and "us" to be inclusive and engage the audience in the message and the process.
  • Avoid qualifiers. Words that vacillate, waffle, hedge, or equivocate strongly suggest that the speaker is unconvinced of his own message. It is often read as a sign of unreliability. While some qualifiers may be necessary, their use should be avoided unless consciously intended.
  • Do not exaggerate. Blatant overstatement undermines a speaker’s credibility. It is unnecessary.
  • Ration technical and ornate language. The audience may not have your technical subject mastery. So using technical language, including acronyms (e.g. NLP for neuro-linguistic programing) will only confuse and may annoy them. The same is true of showing off your education by using obscure or overly ornate language. You may want to show how bright you are; they may feel you are alien—that’s risky.
  • Create vivid and memorable word-picture images. Using these and other techniques enables a speaker to create word-pictures that an audience "sees" as highly vivid and memorable. Reviewing great speeches confirms this, but vivid and memorable imagery is not confined to historic speakers or speeches. It is attainable in everyday communication. It takes the effort to connect our ideas with the images that an audience knows and honors in a way that excites their imagination and enters their experience.

Adapted in part from Legally Speaking: 40 Powerful Presentation Principles Lawyers Need to Know by David J. Dempsey, J.D. (Miranda Publishing 2002).

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