Skip to main content

Plain Language in Spoken Communication

by Londell Buckson

Plain language is as important in spoken communication as it is in writing. When speaking to a group, follow these guidelines:

Know your audience

You know your agenda as the speaker. Consider what your audience hopes to gain from listening to you. You must tailor your speech to your audience.

Structure your message

All speeches require an introduction, body, and conclusion. Think of these sections as your beginning, middle, and end.

Capture your audience with an introduction in which you relate your upcoming message to a current event, say a famous quotation, tell a story, or share a shocking statistic. Use a conclusion that your audience will remember.

Speak in active voice

When the subject of a verb does something (acts), the verb is in the active voice. When the subject of a verb receives the action (is acted upon), the verb is in the passive voice.

Active voice emphasizes the doer of an action. It is briefer, clearer, and more emphatic than passive voice.

Keep it short

It’s easier for your audience to understand your message when you communicate in short, simple sentences.

Keep your entire message short if you don’t have to stay within a given time frame. Your audience will better appreciate and remember your message if you get it across quickly and effectively.

Consider your language

Avoid offensive language such as racial slurs and curse words.

Define words or terms that may be new to your audience. Sometimes, you’ll need to define a word the audience uses so frequently that they may not understand the true definition.

Spell out an acronym the first time you say it.

Incorporate literary devices. Use a simile or metaphor to compare a concept the audience may not understand to something they do understand. Similes are like spices, adding flavor to your speech. Use repetition to emphasize important points.

Use personal pronouns

Addressing your listeners with words like you, we, and our makes it easier for them to picture themselves in your message.

Avoid filler

Don’t fill pauses with words and phrases like um, ah, OK, you know, and things of that nature. They can ruin even the most carefully crafted speech.

Avoid “shall”

Shall is an ambiguous word. Instead, use must, ought, or will.

Audiovisual aids

Television and movies have raised the bar for what excites audiences. We have grown accustomed to processing verbal messages connected with images. An audiovisual aid can help keep your audience engaged. Consider using a chart, poster, picture, PowerPoint presentation, or a combination.

Ensure everyone in the audience will be able to see or hear your aid. If you use PowerPoint or another electronic audiovisual aid, have a backup plan in case the equipment stops working right before or during your speech.

Test your speech

Practicing on your own isn’t enough. Grab a co-worker or two on which to practice your speech. Tell them the purpose of the speech.

Have your practice listeners time your speech and take notes on their reactions. Use their feedback to improve your message.