Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address took little over four minutes to deliver, and contained a total of 285 words, but because he knew how to work with words, the point was made, the information covered, and the speech went down in history.
Check your important presentation against these often overlooked language guidelines:
1. Written vs Spoken Language. Do you use phrases that sound more like writing than speaking? You’ll be surprised how often speakers use terms like “can not” and “did not” in a presentation, when they would normally say “can’t”, or “didn’t”. Natural phrases are easier on the ear, and convince with greater sincerity.
Extremely long sentences are also a giveaway of a written script that is being “read” to the audience. You can overcome this problem simply by rehearsing your speech out loud before delivering it. Your ear will quickly pick up sentences that sound clunky or unnatural.
2. Active Tense. Perhaps 7th grade English seems a distant memory by this stage. Here’s a quick recap on something that will make a difference today: A sentence that lacks a subject is considered to be passive. It’s the difference between saying, “The appropriate amount must be paid when buying the item,” (passive), and “You must pay the appropriate amount…” (active).
Active tense gets to the point quicker, is more persuasive, and sounds more natural than passive tense. Passive tense is euphemistic, and is used to “soften” and avoid giving offence. Politicians use it all the time, and it’s awful. Listen for phrases like, “it was alleged,” “whereas it was believed,” and “measures are to be expected.” Listen for them, and then avoid them like the plague. Speak directly, and with strength.
3. Speak as if to a single person. When addressing an audience, it’s tempting to use phrases like “all of you”, “everybody”, or the cringeworthy “you guys”. These are unnecessary terms, which only distance us from the people we speak to. Your goal is to sound like you are having a conversation with your audience. Address them in the plural, and you damage that illusion.You want people to say, “I felt as though she was speaking directly to me”. You can achieve that by addressing the crowd as though you were speaking to just one person, for example, “Have you ever been in a situation like that?”, “How did you feel?”, “I’d like you to join me in a toast…” etc. It sounds more intimate and familiar, and builds rapport more readily.