Language. It’s everywhere. But as we all know, language can be used effectively or ineffectively. If you use words thoughtfully and sensitively and powerfully, doors and opportunities will open to you. If you don’t use language effectively, those same doors will stay shut or slam shut, and you’ll be both frustrated and frustrating.

We’ve been discussing Michael and Susan Osborn’s 6 C’s of effective language use: clarity, color, concreteness, correctness, conciseness, and cultural sensitivity. This helpful checklist is found their text, Public Speaking: Finding Your Voice. We covered the first three in our last post. Check it out here if you missed it.

Today, we’ll be talking about why correctness, conciseness, and cultural sensitivity matter.

Correctness

One of the quickest ways to damage your credibility with the audience is to use language incorrectly. This can come in many forms, but we’ll just cover a couple: mispronunciations and malapropisms. If you aren’t sure how to pronounce a word, you need to figure that out before giving your presentation. Luckily, pronunciation guides are easy to find online. Simply look up the word in a dictionary and click on the speaker symbol next to the word to hear it pronounced correctly.

Malapropisms happen when a speaker uses a word that sounds similar to the one he intended to use. For example, he might say “apathy” when he meant “empathy.” They are more common than you might think. Literary Devices noted two instances in which Richard Daley, the former mayor of Chicago, used malapropisms. In the first example, he meant to say “tandem bicycle” and instead said “tantrum bicycle.” In another example, Daley said “Alcoholics Unanimous” rather than “Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Often you don’t catch the malapropism in the moment. If you do, simply correct it without drawing too much attention to your mistake. If you don’t catch it right away, audience feedback such as smirking, whispering, or confused looks might clue you in to a malapropism. Make correct language use a priority in your presentations so you don’t undermine your authority.

Conciseness

When it comes to writing concisely, it’s all about the value you get for each word you use. Great writers conduct inventories on their sentences. If that sounds like a drudgery, make it a game. Can I say the same thing with less words? Can I exchange this phrase for a powerful word? What can I take out without losing meaning or clarity?

Previously we wrote about reducing wordiness in your presentations. Here’s a quick recap:

  • Don’t start sentences with “there is” or “there are” or “it is.”
  • Avoid passive voice.
  • Eliminate redundancy.
  • Don’t announce.
  • Say it out loud.

Cultural Sensitivity

The final “C” in Osborn and Osborn’s list of 6 C’s of effective language use comes down to being sensitive of other cultures. Remember, the definition of culture is broad. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.” But “social group” applies to institutions and organizations and fields and families.

So a speaker who is culturally sensitive understands that all of us use language in different ways. What might be an acceptable phrase or metaphor in one group would be offensive or ineffective in another. My tip is to think more about the “S” than the “C” for this one. Ask yourself, is my language sensitive?

When you sit down to write your next presentation, I hope you’ll have this list of the 6 C’s of effective language use nearby: clarity, color, concreteness, correctness, conciseness, and cultural sensitivity. Keep those principles in mind as you develop your content. And use them again after you finish each draft of your presentation. Then watch the doors of opportunity and connection swing open to you as you use effective language to communicate with greater influence.

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