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Speaking Tips: Working with Words for Effect

Updated on May 24, 2013

Colorful words are the tools of the storyteller

The writer at 75.  Yep, I've been at it a long time.
The writer at 75. Yep, I've been at it a long time.

Vivid, colorful Words are the go. So learn 'em and use 'em

If you want to be remembered you need to tell stories. Stories are remembered long after homilies, slogans and movtivational techniques have been deployed. Abstract content is so easily forgotten, as are statistics, bullet point visuals and even pie charts and graphs. Put a story which can be pictured into their minds and it will remain their for the rest of their lives.

Why? Because our subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between something vividly imagined and something which actually happened. Nothing is ever forgotten. It is only speed of recall that causes us upsets. How do we know this? Hypnosis. A hypnotised subject can recall even the minutest detail of a seemingly innocuous event which happened years before so - tell stories.

In Stories, simple does it.

It might be all very clever to present at a job interview and present a spoken vocabulary filled with polysyllablic words, quotes from the French Language and references to Greek Mythology. But if you want an audience of any size to understand you - keep it simple! Spoken language should be simpler than written language. Your listener must know exactly what you mean now - not after reference to a dictionary or encyclopedia. Make it easy for both him and yourself. Use simple words. And generally the shorter the better.

Request permission to abandon ship, sir.

In Stories, be descriptive.

In a story, if you want to have it remembered, don't say, "The ship ran into a storm and was wrecked." Be more descriptive. "The freigther was tossed onto her beam ends as huge seas came over the gunwales deep and green. Then came a horrible screeching sound as her keel ground onto the kelp bestrewn reef." Let 'em use their imagination. Let them feel the movement in their minds; the sights, sounds, smells. Give 'em something that will stay with them.

Use every day language common to all, but use colorful words not the mundane

Take a look at this: Plan IFR FNG F27a for Asdu 35 Kat 23 A/MDG 14 Du 10/145 K1 2 4 6 8 End 240. and this:

3-1, ACCD Cnr John/Smith, AMB and Rescue on way.

GBXZ BLS 0043 Fm BNQJ to VJZL Info VLNK. Yr 011200z. Concur.

270/20 kts, 2/8 cu 2500 5/8 acas 8500 trace CI

Unless you've worked as an airtraffic controller, a police radio operator or been a radio operator in the navy or worked with Meterology these things will mean nothing to you. Okay, I'm being a little pendantic here. Point is, don't use specialist terminology when dealing with a general audience. It might make you sound authentic, but you won't be understood - right?


Don't use abbreviations unless you're sure they will be understood by all. Even if you put them up on the white board and read out whole wording they're still likely to forget.

This famous old RCA poster might well be saying, "Pay attention."

Is this a public speaker or a private speaker?
Is this a public speaker or a private speaker?

Oral Stories - know your audience

An audience appreciates a speaker who has taken the time to find out at least a little about them. This is why statesmen and women visiting foreign countries often go to the trouble of at least learning the greeting of the people they are visiting. It really is worth the effort to get people on side at the very outset, and letting the audience know in some small way that you've done this can make all the difference to how the remainder of your presentation is going to be received. So do the research. And practice that opening.

I hope you enjoyed this short piece on Working with Words for Effect.


Submit a Comment

  • WillStarr profile image

    WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    As a storyteller myself (written, not oral), I'm in full agreement. A good story paints a mental picture for the reader/listener, not just empty words.

  • Paradise7 profile image

    Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

    The Victrola pooch is most def. a "public speaker"!