Writing for the ear

At some point in our studies or careers we all have to put together a speech or presentation. Irritatingly, some people are just born with the ability to flash a smile and make even their Ocado list sound like Woodworth. For the rest of us it takes a bit more effort, because we don't just want to sound good, we care about what we're saying too.

The problem with caring too much about stunning your audience is that it often results in many painful hours perfecting a long and stately prose, which is then entirely forgotten as soon as a room full of eyes stares back at you. There are a few reasons for this. From our school days onward, we're taught to write for the page. We use sentences of endless lists and clauses and then stick in a bit of parenthesis for good measure, lest we forget to add that one essential point that will make or break our reputation.

When we approach writing for the ear like writing for the page our brains as public speakers and the brains of our audience are forced to work very very hard. What? You can't remember point seven on your ninth cue card? Help! Writing for the ear takes practice, but there are many simple ways you can plan a presentation to make your life as a speaker easier and, trust me, your audience will thank you too. Here are just three:


Write like Hemingway

Now I know this may sound trite, but start with writing shorter sentences. Our brains process audible language differently to written language. The shorter the sentence, the more time we have to digest what's being said. The listener is able to understand shorter sentences without their mind wandering only to find you've moved on to something completely different once they've refocused.


Use simple language

Throw out your dictionary. We'd all like to sound like Marc Antony, but if you're friends, countrymen and Romans are all looking up "Lupercalia" on their smartphones, they're not listening to you. Use simple and colloquial language whenever possible. There are more ways to be eloquent than abusing vocabulary.



Run through your presentation with a friend or colleague and then ask them what they think the main points were. If their answer to "Did you understand how we're going to improve turnover next quarter?" is "Strictly come... dancing?" don't take it personally. Go back through what you've written, revisit the structure of your presentation and trim away anything that doesn't get your key points across.