A Speech Must Always Be Clear, Not Necessarily Simple

Christopher Witt —  May 22, 2014

Clarity is the hallmark of an effective speech.

If you confuse your audience, they won’t be impressed by how smart you are. They won’t do what you ask of them. They may even resent you.

So clarity is good, confusion bad.

One way to be clear is to be simple.

  • Cut down the scope of the issue or idea you’re addressing.
  • Reduce the number of elements (preferably to three) that you explain.
  • Eliminate ambiguity and subtleties.
  • Avoid technical terms, idioms, or words of any sort that are not in the popular parlance
  • Dumb things down.

But sometimes you can’t or don’t want to be simple.

Sometimes a complex, sophisticated, intellectually challenging speech is just what’s called for.

Sometimes the issue you’re examining is itself complex, and reducing it to a few straightforward precepts would do it an injustice.

Sometimes the audience is highly knowledgeable. They may be experts in the field. And they enjoy grappling with concepts that others would find too difficult to understand.

At all times and at all costs, be clear. Make your speech simple whenever possible. But don’t shy away, when necessary or helpful, from making a presentation that is difficult and that demands an audience’s attention and effort.

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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.