Words are the tools that speakers use to craft their message. Just as an artist chooses a brush, color, and medium to create a picture filled with meaning on a canvas, effective speakers deliberately choose words to paint mental images, stir emotions, and convey meaning in their spoken message. The words we use have power to unify, inspire, and persuade as well as disenfranchise, destruct and damage. How carefully do you choose your words when delivering a presentation?
Words that are clear, simple, and short will trump jargon, abstract words and language filled with clutter when you want to get your message across. The following guidelines will help in using more effective language for presentations:
1. Clarity. Mark Twain famously quipped, “use the right word, not its second cousin.” Language clarity means using words that your audience knows and understands. Adapt your language to fit your audience. Avoid jargon, acronyms, and slang that are industry-specific (unless you are speaking to an audience that is entirely industry-specific – still, be sure to explain what the letters stand for). Another technique that avoids clarity is the use of euphemisms, which are used to soften the blow of an unpleasant truth. For example, the words “salary adjustment” really means “pay cut”. Euphemisms can be confusing, mislead an audience, and lower a speaker’s trustworthiness.
2. Simplicity. Winston Churchill once advised to speak in “short, homely words for common usage.” Using simple, concrete words works best to paint mental imagery in our audience’s mind. Using concrete words over abstract words invokes our senses: sight, smell, touch, hearing. This makes our message more memorable.
3. Brevity. “Edit. If one word can do the work of five, now you’re talking,” stated Phyllis Diller, one of the legends in modern comedy. Don’t hide your message in clutter of unnecessary language. Some of the most powerful messages created contained just two or three words. Think about the “Got Milk?” campaign and Nike’s tagline, “Just Do It”.
Clarity, simplicity, and brevity are the keys to successfully crafting your presentation.