Sloppy Language Trivializes Speeches and Presentations

Christopher Witt —  December 10, 2012

In an essay titled, “Why I Write,” (published in 1946) George Orwell made the case that the corruption of language corrupts society.

In a similar vein, the sloppy use of language in speeches and presentations trivializes thought. How we think — our deliberating, reasoning, judging — shapes how we speak. And, just as surely, how we speak — our words and how we string them together — shapes how we think.

Our words matters.

Because words matter so much, I recommend writing out speeches from beginning to end. (That’s not to say you should read them word for word.) And I recommend writing out sections of your presentations, especially the introduction, conclusion, and transitions from one section to the next.

To eliminate “stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally,” Orwell proposed six rules for writing, which I think apply to speaking and making presentations:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

I think it’s good advice to follow. Would you add any advice of your own?

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.