Speak Conversationally

  • SumoMe

Hispanic Woman Speaker

Have you ever given a prepared speech that fell flat?  Have you gone into “speaker mode?”  Has your speech felt a little stilted?

Been there.  Done that.

A couple of years ago, I watched a video of myself in “speaker mode” or “performance mode” and I cringed.  I had all the right elements:

Carefully crafted phrases.  Perfectly chosen words. Planned gestures. Dramatic pauses.

But my presentation seemed too scripted.   Not real.  Not authentic.

I was a plastic person.

Later, in the same video, someone asks me a question. I went “off script” and came alive.

The plastic person melted.

And, I realized the secret to crafting a presentation that connects with people:

Write the way you talk.

You are not writing an essay that a reader can ponder and go back to read complicated sections. Write for the ear, not the eye.

Write as if you are talking to a close friend, someone specific.  You could even record yourself talking to someone about your subject to get a feel for the conversational tone.  At the very least, read what you’ve written out loud.

So, how do you write conversationally?

  • Use short sentences
    • “The buck stops here” is more powerful than, “I will not pass the responsibility on to someone else.”
  • Use short, plain words
    • For example, use “try” instead of “endeavor” or “set up” instead of “establish”
  • Use contractions
    • “I’m” instead of “I am” unless you are being emphatic.  For example, “I’m Diane Windingland” is more natural than “I am Diane Windingland.”  However, for emphatic statements, using the non-contracted form can add power.  Weak: “I’m sick and tired of . . .” Strong: “I am sick and tired of . . .”
  • Use active voice
    • Using an active voice simply means that the subject of the sentence is doing the action (verb) and not being acted upon.
      • Active:  Mrs. White (subject) read (verb) the book aloud to the students.
      • Passive:  The book (subject) was being read aloud by Mrs. White to the students. (Is the book doing the action?  No.)
  • Address the listener directly, using “you.”
    • Use phrases like “Have you . . . ?” instead of “Have any of you . . . ?”  You wouldn’t say “Have any of you . . . ?” when talking to one person, would you?
  •  Use concrete images, stories, and examples
    • If you speak about an abstract concept, quickly make it concrete for your audience or you will lose them.  Don’t just tell, show.
  • Reduce your speech to keywords and bullet points.
    • Practice from keywords and don’t worry about saying it the exact same way every time.  If you practice only one way over and over and then “blank out,” your mind has no alternative phrasing to turn to.  However, I do suggest memorizing the first few and last few lines, to give you a solid, planned start and end.

Don’t speak from written scripts.  Not only will you sound stilted, you will lose the engagement of conversational eye contact. Conversational eye contact means looking directly at individual people as you are speaking and not just looking at the audience.  Hold eye contact with an individual as you would in conversation—for a complete thought.  Then, move to another person in the audience.  I like to look at one person for a complete thought, then look at someone else near the first person for another complete thought before moving on to an individual in another part of the audience.

Craft and deliver conversational speeches to engage your audience!