A lot of my time is spent supporting people on the technical side of communication; the pace of a speech, managing non-verbal communication, maximising silence, among many other areas. However, one of the most critical aspects that people often dismiss when speech writing is the content.
The language you use can have a significant impact on the quality of your speech or presentation. The central themes of your message can often get lost in a flurry of jargon or overly technical language that means very little to your audience.
So let me take you on a little linguistic journey, scrambling over the hurdles that many speechwriters and presenters should consider when drafting the prose they hope will inspire their team to scale the north face of success and obliterate their competition. (See what I did there…?!)
What is poor communication?
So what do we mean when we talk about poor communication? It is the over-complication of simple responses, presentations, or speeches that causes confusion and reduces the impact of your message.
It is when people pack sentences full of buzzwords and fillers that don’t necessarily mean anything.
In a recent podcast, Laura Brown, author of ‘The Only Business Writing Book You’ll Ever Need’, suggested that business communication used to follow legal templates. However, with social media and messaging growth, business communication has become far more relaxed without getting any more effective.
Instead of updating the board on your position with:
“We don’t have enough developers to meet our deadline”,
you might hear:
“We are short of capacity within the development team, which may result in us missing the previously agreed project deadlines.”
Or, when delivering a business address,
“Our customer behaviour has changed, and we have no choice but to reduce our frontline staff.”
It might be delivered as,
“Due to unforeseen economic factors, the nature of our business has changed, and for us to survive, we will have to adapt our customer engagement approach to reflect demand”.
Or if you are being asked to a meeting to address future strategy:
“Let’s get together to look at next year’s strategy ahead of our annual presentation.”
Some might say:
“Can we pull together a strategic all-hands meeting to bring all our ideas to the table for a brain dump ahead of next month’s presentation?”
None of these approaches is incorrect; however, the message tends to get lost amidst the jargon and volume of words.
So why do we do it? Why do we overcomplicate our language?
Why do we overcomplicate our language?
There are a few reasons why we try to overcomplicate the way we communicate, whether that is in speech writing, an investment pitch, a team talk or just board room discussion.
One of the most common reasons for talking in what is often an unnatural way is the desire to sound superior. This drive to sound better or wiser is often heard from middle managers who want to impress senior colleagues.
Unfortunately, this has an impact at all levels. Younger recruits join the business believing this is how people communicate and start to use it themselves. Senior leaders get frustrated because the answer they get to a simple question is often packed with a raft of meaningless filler words.
Laura Brown highlighted the part played by Management Schools in not addressing communication. She suggested that the ability to communicate is taken for granted by the leading schools that feel anyone who can gain access to one of their management training courses must surely be able to communicate effectively.
However, there is another aspect to this. Whilst it is not necessarily vanity, there is a need to communicate in a way that is appropriate for a specific setting.
For instance, specific financial and governance issues need to be addressed using the correct phraseology in a board setting. It might seem a little out of place if you start addressing a board chair as you would your teammates. But likewise, communicating with your customers or team as you would the board will not yield the results you want.
Some members of the team who work on the technical side of the business can deliver updates and presentations that are laden with technical terms that only they know the meaning of.
This approach is often used as a means of protecting an employee’s position within an organisation. While the content of what they are saying is entirely accurate, it holds no real value for anyone outside that department. The thinking might be;
‘If I am the only one who understands this, they surely can’t let me go or interfere in my work.’
Another reason for not always using straightforward language is the desire not to get tied down. Again often the purview of middle managers, or indeed politicians, if you can answer a challenging question without actually saying one way or another, then when something doesn’t happen, your head isn’t on the block.
Finding the right approach
It can be a little confusing when you have always adopted a particular style in your communication at work and it is challenged. However, there are a few essentials to think about that can make a real difference in your speech writing or presentation preparation.
Start with ‘what’
When you are preparing your communication, make sure you start your planning with what. What central message do you want your audience to take away? From there, you can address the most straightforward way to deliver it.
Know your audience
Consider your audience. As I’ve mentioned in my previous article, one size does not fit all when it comes to speech writing and business communication. Think about your audience and how they would prefer to receive your information.
If you are delivering bad news, you have to be tactful, but you shouldn’t try to hide in your language. Preparation is the key, and being ready to answer the tough questions with straight answers will ultimately result in a better outcome.
It might be a speech to inspire your team. Don’t pack your address full of cliches and jargon; your authenticity will be rewarded.
If you are delivering a pitch for a business with a lot of technical aspects, really think about the audience you are addressing. If it is to a group of investors, whilst they will have some technical knowledge, they won’t have your know-how and you will lose their interest if you overcomplicate your pitch.
Less is more
Taking a less is more approach to your speech writing is essential. There can be a tendency to pad out a speech to meet a specific time limit or make it seem like you have lots to say. Avoid this temptation. All you are doing is muddying your core message. And try to avoid using the latest buzzwords; they do very little to add credibility. They are just a waste of time.
Finding the words
The key to finding the right words for any address or presentation is simplicity. Know and understand your core message and find the simplest most appropriate, way to deliver it.