Three Tips For Clear Communication

The world is awash in bad writing says a renowned linguist, and the reason for it is simple. People misjudge the gap between what they know about a topic and what their readers or listeners understand. In his recent book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide To Writing In The 21st Century, Harvard professor Steven Pinker describes how “the curse of knowledge” can obscure communication.

Bad writing creeps into speeches and presentations in the form of bureaucratese, legalese, corporate speak and other specialty dialects. A big part of a wordsmith’s job then is to express complex and arcane words and ideas in clear language. And that can be a challenge when you're really close to the subject or you have to work from documents written for an internal audience.

So, take these three steps to ward off the curse of knowledge when you prepare your next speech or presentation.

  • Give yourself a breather - Put away your finished script for awhile, then look at it again. Leaps in logic that are hard for non experts to follow and other weak spots will be more visible to fresh eyes. For that reason, it's also a good idea to get someone else to review the script.

  • Get rid of the jargon - Terms that are clear to you and your colleagues may be “Greek” to your listeners. Take, for example, a reference in a speech to a program for unemployed workers in vulnerable communities. If you’re like me, you’re wondering what’s a vulnerable community? Replace abstract insider-speak with concrete language.

  • Open up dense writing - You may be able to cram three or four ideas into a single sentence on the written page, but don’t try it on the podium. Listeners have to work too hard to analyze the information and keep up with the speaker. So, limit each sentence to one or at most two ideas. Your writing will be crisper, and your audience will pay more attention to what you have to say.