I was spectacularly ill last week. I use the word ‘spectacularly’ in the sense of ‘very’. I wouldn’t have wished anyone to have witnessed how violently the food poisoning-like symptoms struck. God forbid! It took days to overcome the lassitude afterwards. Though I hope it’s a useful introduction to something I’ve been thinking about – the use of language to grab attention at the beginning of a presentation.
You notice I began this post with a short 6 words. Apart from the exaggerated 5 syllables in ‘spectacularly’, the others were terse and spare. Choose direct, simple Anglo-Saxon words that create urgency. It’s no co-incidence that the simple, direct and peasant-like words are the Anglo-Saxon ones whilst the Norman/Latinate ones are more complex and multi-syllabled. I love that the food in the field is called ‘pig’, ‘cow’ and ‘sheep’ whilst the food on the plate is called ‘pork’, ‘beef’ and ‘mutton’ (porc, boeuf et mouton) reflecting who was doing the looking after of the animal and who was doing the eating inside the castle!
Those who use the Latinate words want to impress, to ‘big themselves up’ or are so lost in the detail, they lose sight of engaging with their audience. They create confusion and misunderstanding. (I don’t know about you but I get doubly annoyed when the presenter starts using obscure acronyms and abbreviations. Obviously too close to the woods to see the trees.)
So always ask – “Am I expressing this idea as simply and directly as I can? How can I clarify further?” In your imagination, choose a place in the auditorium to watch your performance. Keep thinking from that point of view. Your audience will thank you for making things as clear.
It’s the mark of a very great mind.