The words you use in a speech should be your own. Even if you have a speechwriter you should participate in the writing of the speech; and the greater the level of participation the better. The best way to ensure that a speech sounds like you is to write the speech as if you were talking; and this means that you have to talk while you’re writing. Speak the words out loud so that you know how they sound as well as how they look. To be heard naturally a speech has to be written naturally.
One of the most important elements in any effective presentation is the speaker’s emotional investment in the subject. You have to capture in words the essence of your feelings as well as the logic of your thoughts. Lose yourself completely in the substance of what you want to say and the words will come. Never feel uncomfortable about letting your feelings show.
Your talk has to be easy for the audience to understand and remember. The mysterious must be demystified and the unknown has to be related to the known, which is where the power of analogies comes in. Search hard for examples and descriptions to which the audience can easily relate.
An engineer shouldn’t sound like an engineer. An accountant should take great pains not to sound like an accountant. A lawyer should never sound like a lawyer. Your presentation is an event that you’re writing a script for, not a textbook, so you must use simple language that everyone can understand.
Ask yourself, “Will the audience understand what this means?” Buzzwords and jargon should be avoided as much as possible, unless they are part of the language of the audience. But buzzwords and jargon come into existence because they are useful as shorthand for more complex expressions. So, if using a buzzword or two will make your talk clearer, by all means do so. But always clearly define the buzzword the first time you use it. Language that is anything other than simple and conversational will get in the way of the message. The audience has to understand your words as well as hear your voice.
Make your words human rather than institutional. For example, say, “I’ll keep you up to date” rather than, “Further notification will follow in due course”. All the better if you can say, “I’ll be sending around a memo about this on the 12th”.
Alliteration and repetition, if not overdone, usually add force to a presentation. Politicians are particularly adept at this.
Never use words that you have difficulty pronouncing.
Whenever you have a choice it’s always better to express your thoughts positively rather than negatively. “I’ll always remember” is stronger and more effective than “I’ll never forget”; and it’s usually more persuasive to talk about what you are for rather than what you’re against.
A picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words. Poets know this, which is why their works survive the ages. So, paint word pictures. Don’t just say, “Like a little dog”. Say, “Like a shaggy little black poodle with soulful brown eyes and perfect posture”. If you don’t come up with the words needed to paint clear images in their minds, the audience will come up with their own; and they may not fit the image you’re trying to create or the message you’re trying to convey.
Just as they make for dull conversation, generalizations make for dull speeches. Would the whole world have remembered these words: “The Soviet Union has taken control of Eastern Europe”? Not likely. But Churchill’s, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent” will never be forgotten. Would people still remember President Kennedy’s words had he said, “We need to rethink how we interact with government”, rather than, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country”? No, they wouldn’t.
Use short sentences, but use impact words. “Smashed” is stronger than “broken”, “thrilled” is more descriptive than “happy”. The active voice is always better than the passive. Verbs that are too far away from their nouns are confusing.
Be specific. “We had 108 emails, 20 letters, and 40 telephone calls” is much more convincing evidence than, “We received numerous responses”. Don’t just say, “We have to make a greater investment in our marketing efforts if we want to increase revenue significantly.” Do some research so that you’re able to say, “We’re confident that an increase of two hundred thousand dollars in our marketing budget will result in an increase of over a million dollars in sales.”
Always have a thesaurus and dictionary at hand while writing your speech. Taking the time to search for the right word is time well spent. Not only will doing so enliven your speech, but you’ll develop an expanded vocabulary. This, in turn, will improve your conversational skills and make your memos, letters and emails much more effective. The more you expand your vocabulary the less time you’ll have to spend doing so.