Keep Language Simple to Reach a Larger Audience

I’m a member of a club that helps develop public speaking and leadership skills. A very small, but fun, part of the meeting is the “Word of the Day” that we are challenged to use during the meeting.

While it’s fun to learn new, complex words and figure out ways to use them in the meeting, I recently admitted to a fellow club member that I rarely use the words again.

I just don’t believe in using many complex, or, as I sometimes call them “highfalutin,” words in my speech or writing.

Great speech and writing, to me, is about conveying a message or story in the simplest way possible that also helps the largest number of people understand and remember it.

Why say effusive when you can say unrestrained gratitude, or heartfelt gratitude?

Why say impetus when you can say force, driving force, inspiration or motivation?

Why say ingeminate when you can say repeat?

Have you ever felt the need to reach for a dictionary while listening to someone speak or when reading their work? Many of us have been there.

When this happens I often wonder if the person really thought about their audience. Who are they trying to reach? Were they focused on sounding smart or on getting the message out to the most people? Even if they speak or write this way on a regular basis, did they attempt to tailor their language to their audience? Did they they consider that their message might get lost in their language?

Consider these points when preparing your next message:

Language can become a distraction.

Reaching for the dictionary once or twice can be fun and educational, but no one wants to look up words every other minute. If the audience has to do that, then the language has become a distraction. The audience is lost in a dictionary not the message. Worse, a portion of the audience won’t even feel like looking it up and will just tune out completely.

Using simple and familiar language helps reach more people.

People prefer to take in information quickly. Readers, especially online readers, appreciate language that is familiar and easy to follow.

Everyone in life is in various stages of education. Do you want people to get your message now, or wait until they are more educated?

Consider that some people are instantly turned off by big/complex words that aren’t normally used in general communication. They assume that the person is trying too hard to appear more educated. They might even believe they are being talked down to.

Simple language does not limit success.

Think about some of the most successful, bestselling authors, speakers, song writers. Think about blog posts you enjoy reading. You’ll find that most of them keep it simple in terms of words. Yet they skillfully use words to drive action and create vivid imagery in their work. The skill is not in using higher level words, but it is in spinning the story and creating a world while using language is familiar to us all.

Here is my favorite example of a successful writer using simple words and sentence structure to create a funny and vivid image:

“Eula-Beulah was prone to farts – the kind that are both loud and smelly. Sometimes when she was so afflicted, she would throw me on the couch, drop her wool-skirted butt on my face, and let loose. “Pow!” she’d cry in high glee. It was like being buried in marsh gas fireworks. I remember the dark, the sense that I was suffocating, and I remember laughing. Because, while what was happening was sort of horrible, it was also sort of funny. In many ways, Eula-Beulah prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two-hundred-pound babysitter fart on your face and yell Pow! The Village Voice holds few terrors.” — From Stephen King’s On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft.

What are your thoughts on word choice in speeches and in writing?

When IS it appropriate to use those more complex words or sentences?

What examples do you have?

Feel free to share in the comments. I look forward to your point of view.