If there’s one thing Twitter has taught us, it’s how powerful conciseness and clarity can be. A 140-character tweet cuts out the unnecessary, redundant, and flowery words, encouraging tweeters to send straight, strong messages to their networks.
When writing a speech, remember Twitter’s implied advice to all its users: be clear and concise. There’s some truth to the idea that a lengthy speech is an indicator of your expertise and experience. After all, the more proficient you are in your field, the more ideas and stories you have to share with your audience. However, length does not necessarily equate with quality. If you over-write, hoping to impress your audience or to make yourself feel good, you’re going to end up with a lot of extra talk that adds nothing but vagueness.
In some instances, speakers are unconsciously guilty of becoming unnecessarily wordy. As they talk, new, off-script ideas occur to them; they lose focus and ramble on and on, losing their audience in the process.
To help you avoid these pitfalls, we’ve put together this short list of practical tips:
#1: Don’t overuse adverbs
Many successful writers advise against frequent use of adverbs. Stephen King, for instance, argues that adverbs contradict the idea of simplicity and straightforwardness in a sentence. He suggests that writers who frequently use verb and adjective modifiers do so out of fear that they’re not getting their point across. He compares adverbs to dandelions on your lawn:
“To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.”
Every time you use an adverb, consider carefully whether it adds value to the sentence. Intensifiers like really, quite, very, extremely, totally, etc. are sometimes better omitted – they just don’t add sufficient value to justify their use. For example:
- He really wanted his business to go global.
- Though she’s frustrated at your decision, she totally respects it.
- I’m extremely sorry I can’t attend your product launch.
One option is to replace a modifier with a more descriptive term. The infographic below, from ProofreadingServices.com, suggests 128 vivid words to use instead of “very.”
#2: Avoid redundancy
Needlessly stating a fact more than once wastes your listeners’ time and makes your writing ineffective. Surprisingly, redundant expressions are common in everyday language. Go over 50 examples of redundant phrases on Daily Writing Tips offers 50 examples of such phrases. It’s worth checking out, to see if you’ve fallen into the habit of a redundancy or two. There’s a similar list – also worth reviewing – on the Speak Good English Movement’s Facebook Page.
One reason redundancy creeps in now and then is simple failure to pay attention. Redundancies in casual conversation may be socially excusable, but if you’re making an important presentation, take care with your words. You’ll save face, and credibility too.
To spot redundancy as you write, ask yourself any of these questions:
- Is there any word in this sentence that isn’t necessary?
- Can I take out this word or phrase and still keep the essence of the sentence?
- How can I make this sentence more concise?
- How could I rephrase this to make it less wordy?
#3: Avoid overused words
What could be more boring than using “said” 20 times in a row, when recounting a dialogue? When you want to compliment someone or something, wouldn’t it be better to use something other than “nice,” “good,” or even “excellent?” When it comes to describing someone’s feelings, shouldn’t you give your audience a break and express them with something more creative than “happy,” “sad,” or “excited?”
Those words might be descriptive, and easily understood by any audience, but they can be overused all too easily. Fortunately, English is a rich language, so you’ve got plenty of alternatives for almost any situation. So find and use a good thesaurus. And as a fine example of the possibilities, this poster offers a 100 ways you could replace the tired old word “said.”
How do you make your speeches concise? Share your techniques with us in the comments.