If you’re new to public speaking, the chances are you’ll want to craft what you’re going to say in writing before opening your mouth. It’s a good place to begin. I always recommend starting with a simple outline; a few bullet points of what you want to cover – not an essay!
Young reporters moving from print journalism to broadcast newsrooms tend to think they already know how to write for a general audience. So, it’s often a shock when the first feedback they get from the program editor is: “Too long. Too wordy. Too complicated. I’ve switched channels already!”
We can learn from broadcast news writing, as the basic rules apply to public speaking too.
- Short and conversational – no more than one sub-clause
- Free of unnecessary detail
- Simple in vocabulary. Prefer: doctor to physician, use to utilize, learn to ascertain
- Active in mood: “The cat sat on the mat”, not “The mat was sat on by the cat”
and avoid trying to convey too many ideas at once. More than three main points or take-home messages in one speech, argument or pitch is already too many. Likewise, one point or one main idea in a sentence or slide is enough.
Finally, remember that keeping it simple is as much in the quality of the prep as the speech itself.
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Peter Coë, July 12, 2022
Peter was a business journalist and BBC television news anchor for many years, and has nearly 30 years’ experience as a speaker trainer.