The Right Words for Speeches

Christopher Witt —  August 19, 2013

Picture of bookAlthough you should consider writing out at least some parts of your speeches, you have to bear in mind the difference between the written and the spoken word.

Spoken words require more attention to sound. For instance, you probably would never say “eschew” from the podium — it sounds too stuffy and almost obscene — but you could use in in a written piece. Some word combinations — fluent French for example, or bright blue — can be difficult to pronounce, especially when you’re nervous and your mouth is dry. (That’s one reason it’s always wise to practice your speech out loud: to discover — and revise — sounds that might give you trouble before you’re in front of a crowd.

Spoken words need to be conversational. You can get away with more formal usage when you’re writing. But when you’re giving a talk, people expect you to sound somewhat as you sound when you speaking to them in a conversation.

Spoken words must be immediately or almost immediately understood. If you use a word in writing that readers don’t understand, they can think about it for a moment, try to figure it out from the context, or perhaps look it up, then resume reading. But if you use a word that listeners don’t understand, they stop listening to you to try to figure it out. They stop listening; you keep speaking. When they figure it out — if they do — they tune back in to what you’re saying only to find that they’ve missed something.

excerpted from Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint: How to Sell Yourself and Your Ideas

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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.