So much of being a great speaker is about how you use language. That’s why Michael and Susan Osborn included a language checklist in their text, Public Speaking: Finding Your Voice.
They call their list the 6 C’s of effective language use. These 6 categories will help us write effectively, avoid miscommunication, and succeed as speakers. They are clarity, color, concreteness, correctness, conciseness, and cultural sensitivity. Since that’s more than we can cover in one blog, we’ll divide these into two posts, covering 3 each day.
For today, we’ll be talking about how the clarity, color, and concreteness of language affect how effectively we are able to communicate with our audience.
In order for your presentation to be effective, your language has to be clear. Here’s the simple truth. We won’t listen long to something that is confusing. That means you need to be careful when writing your presentations. Part of that means resisting the urge to write your speech like you would write a paper or report. That can be tough since most of our education about language centers around writing. But written language differs from spoken language in a quite a few ways. In order to make your spoken language clearer, try these two tips:
Shorten your sentences. In writing, longer sentences can work because the reader can go back and reread if he or she doesn’t get it the first time. We don’t have that luxury with spoken language in live presentations, though. So stick to shorter sentences.
Don’t use big words or jargon. Simplify your language use. It doesn’t matter how smart you sound if your audience can’t understand what you are saying. Choose words that speak directly to your audience members, not over their heads. And weed out specialized or technical jargon that doesn’t make sense to those who are outside of the field that uses that vocabulary.
Don’t worry, we don’t mean “colorful” language in the way your grandmother might have meant it when she said, “don’t use that colorful language in my house!” So what exactly do we mean by color? Well, you can’t hear color can you? So colorful language is quite simply language that you can see. It is language that is heavily reliant on imagery and adjectives. Literarydevices.net says imagery functions “to generate a vibrant and graphic presentation of a scene that appeals to as many of the reader’s senses as possible.” Check out the list they’ve compiled of examples of imagery.
Interestingly, researchers have discovered that sentences with more colorful language activate more regions of our brain. In this particular study, participants’ brain activity was measured using fMRI scans. Researchers found more activity for the sentence “He had a rough day” than for “He had a bad day.” Why? The word “rough” is more colorful—it’s attached to sensory experience. So even just swapping out a word can make your language more effective.
Most of the words in your presentation won’t stick with the audience. In fact numerous studies have shown that we forget a significant portion of what we hear or learn within days. But concrete language can help your audience remember specifics longer because it impacts them on a deeper level. It’s all in the specific details. Here’s an example:
Abstract: My daughter Clara is an artist.
Concrete: When my daughter Clara comes home, she doesn’t take off her coat or shoes, but goes immediately to her art desk to draw. Sometimes I even find her sketching with her backpack still on.
See how you process the concrete example more easily and deeply? I basically told you the same information. But when you move away from general and abstract statements toward specific and concrete ones, you attach handles and faces and stories that the audience can both understand and remember.
Clarity, color, and concreteness are just the first three of Osborn and Osborn’s checklist to make sure we are using language effectively. Check back tomorrow for the other three ways they say we can elevate language use.
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