Reader question: Is it possible to be a good speaker without perfect language

Put politics aside for a second. Listen to the patterns in this guy’s speech, there are a couple things I would like to point out…

Below is an anonymized version of the email that points those things out…


Hi XXX,

I agree completely, you don’t need perfect language to be a good speaker. If you have something interesting to say, and if the audience wants to hear your opinions, you could probably send smoke signals into the air, or use some other incredibly inefficient communications technique, and they would still listen with great attention.

As long as you have something they want, people will allow almost anything. That’s one of the most important jobs in good communication: find out what the other people want.

Of course, if everything else is equal, perfect language will win. But everything else is almost never equal, and, in fact, it’s almost always all of our jobs, no matter what our industry is, to make sure that everything else is never equal.

And actually, perfect language can get in the way sometimes, because audiences like to see effort and thought on the speaker’s face. Maybe the effort is coming from language, but the audience often doesn’t know that. The speaker might be digging deep for a vocabulary word, but the audience just thinks the speaker is thinking deeply.

That İbrahim Kalın speech you sent is a great example. He has lots of ahh’s and umm’s in there, but they actually add to his speech — the effect is “this guy is speaking genuinely, because he needs to slow down and think.” Having too many ahh’s and umm’s is usually a problem, but the magic number seems to be about 6 per minute — if you use a lot more than that, it makes the audience’s brains hurt, but if you use less than that, the audience thinks you are genuine/thoughtful.

Another thing he does very well is he doesn’t stress every word. He relaxes his stress for a few phrases, and only stresses a few words per sentence. The result? The audience gets a chance to relax too, and instead of getting tired because they have to listen to 10 words and decide which 10 words are important, İbrahim Kalın is already doing that work for them.

Matt

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