Want to give punchier speeches that move quickly and flow rhythmically? Want to sharpen your delivery and engage your audience?
Most speakers do. They know if they drone on with long sentences, multi-syllable words, and complicated phrases, they are guaranteed to turn the auditorium into a snooze section.
You have something important to say. Keep your audience awake and ready for more with these six tips:
1. Spoon feed.
Use shorter sentences.
When you write for a reader, you can use compound sentences, throw in a few “howevers,” and compare and contrast in a single statement. Readers have the luxury to go over a sentence a second time to make sure they catch your meaning.
Listeners do not. You have to spoon feed them morsel by morsel.
To keep your sentences short, use fewer adjectives and lose unnecessary words. Read the speech out loud to get the full effect. If you feel like you’re gasping for air, your sentences are too long.
2. Stay active.
Use the active voice: “The horse jumped over the fence.”
Stay away from the passive voice: “The fence was jumped over by the horse.”
See how stilted passive voice can be? But, in some cases it works better. Again, read the sentence out loud to see which sounds better.
3. Forget the past.
Concentrate on using the present or future tense. They are much more dynamic than the past tense, but sometimes you can’t avoid speaking of events in the past. You might have to tell a story or lay the foundation for what you propose for the future.
Almost all of Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford was about the past. But, he used lessons from the past to inspire the graduates in the present and for the future.
4. Use sentence fragments.
When I was in high school English, I got an “F” on a paper if I used a sentence fragment. A sentence fragment is a statement that can’t stand alone.
Example: “Like the time I went to Disney World.”
That is not a complete thought. My English teacher was trying to teach me to write in complete thoughts with sound sentence structure.
The good news is that when we talk, we often use sentence fragments. In fact, we use them all the time. That’s why it’s OK to speak using partial sentences.
5. Have your say.
If you have an opinion, state it.
Example: “Chocolate should be one of the five food groups.”
That sounds much stronger than: “In my opinion, chocolate should be one of the five food groups,” or “I think chocolate should be one of the five food groups.”
6. Use “that.”
If you’ve taken journalism or business writing courses, someone warned you against using the word “that.” But when you write for the ear, you need more verbal props to help the listener along. If you move too fast through your thoughts, your audience will have a hard time keeping up.
Example: “I can tell you that our company has had four years of solid growth.”
It seems like a subtle difference if you take “that” out of the sentence, but it sounds more rhythmic to a listener.
Sheila Allee is an award-winning speechwriter and author. She blogs at SheilaAllee.com, where a version of this article originally appeared.