Friday, August 24, 2012

Keep your words short, please

Delivering speeches is not about showing off your extensive vocabulary. There's no need to try to impress audiences with the length of words that you know. Consider the following paragraph from Richard Dowis, author of "The Lost Art of the Great Speech"; 

"Short words can make us feel good. They can run and jump and dance and soar high in the clouds. They can kill the chill of a cold night and help keep us cool on a hot day. They fill our hearts with joy, but can bring tears to our eyes as well. Small words of love can move us, charm us, lull us to sleep. Short words give us light and hope and peace and love and health - and a lot more good things. A small word can be as sweet as the taste of a ripe pear, or tart like plum jam."
Each word in that paragraph is just one syllable, yet they still have the power to evoke powerful feelings and strong emotions. Speechwriters know that short, simple words are often the most powerful elements of great speeches, and brilliant speakers know that too. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson : "An orator is never successful until they learn to make their words smaller than their ideas"
When you prepare a speech, look at the words you are using. Could they be simpler? Is there a way of expressing your ideas in shorter words? You may well find that the impact is more powerful when you trim it down.


David Long said...

Surely it's not about the length of the words that are used, but the relevance of them?
Short words are good, especially if you are presenting to an audience where English is not a first language, but then you also need to adjust the speed of your speech.
As Stephen Fry said, language has the power to evoke such strong images in the mind. Why use 10 words when 100 will have so much more impact.

Alan Stevens said...

David, thanks for your comment. Yes, relevance is critical, otherwise the audience has no interest. My plea is for speakers to be aware that clarity is important too, since I've heard too many speeches weakened by complex language that weakens the message.

Jeremy Dent said...

Keep the speech short, too (all one syllable words).