by Charlene Smith (c)
For many people the opportunity to give a speech, or write an article, sees common sense flee and pomposity enter.
Instead of writing in a manner that encourages story-telling or that engages, they become stilted, they use big words, their ego inflates and blocks imagination. Here is some of the advice I have given executives and authors over the years.
- If you’re at a noisy dinner party, with say ten people, you wouldn’t enter the conversation by saying, “In 1966 my company invented blah and so it was then decided that we would blah…” You’d say something like, “did you know that female hyenas have false penisses?” Conversation would stop, and you would continue, “yep, it gives them certain advantages, and it sounds strange but we considered this fascinating example from the wild when putting together our new business strategy…” Everyone is listening, intrigued, what on earth will you say next?
- What we’ve learnt from the first example is the importance of story-telling, people are children, no matter how old they are, they love stories. Incorporate one or two into your presentation, they’ll remember it better and they’’ll hang on to every word.
- Keep it brief. You don’t want a story so long that you, and they, forget the punchline.
- Use simple language. Part of what made Albert Einstein great was not just his abilities as a mathematician, but his capacity to come up with memorable phrases. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We understand what he’s saying, we get it, and we remember it. Way better than corporate speak: ‘In order to achieve optimal results, we realized that we had to discard the methodology of previous experiments’ (and so the corporate nebbish drones on and on…) Please eliminate the phrase ‘in order’ it’s useless and it guarantees poor language construction.
- Why should we care? Think about your audience when you are writing your speech, article, blog or presentation.Why should they care? They have limited hours, what you are writing is important to you, but why should they bother to give you the time of day? Think about your audience carefully. If necessary look through a magazine for a photograph of the typical person in your audience, pin that picture on your noticeboard and write the presentation for him or her, use language they’ll relate too, and consider his, her, or their, most pressing needs – are you able to present solutions?
- Watch TED talks. What makes them effective? Their informality. The story-telling. Humor. Simple language. Sincerity. Clever new ideas. Transformative thinking. Can you introduce those elements into your presentation? Go through what you’ve written and tick off where you have each of the points I’ve just mentioned.
- First draft written. Now put it away. Come back to it a day or two later, read it out loud, ideally in front of a mirror, watch your facial and body language, and check the written language, does it sound engaging? Now edit, ruthlessly, and rewrite again. Hone it until you get the look and feel that will honor your audience, and you.