5 Tips for Making Presentation Language Come Alive

By Scott Schwertly

It’s pretty likely that C.S. Lewis brought you a little bit of happiness when you were a child. As author of the Chronicles of Naria series, C.S. Lewis created one of the most beloved children series of all time. As a result, he got loads of fan mail from his biggest fans: children. And being the nice purveyor of childhood glee that he was, he managed to respond to many of the letters, including one from Joan Lancaster, in which he included several tips on writing.

Let’s see what we can learn about presentations from his poignant advice.

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

This is great advice for the presenter as our job is disseminate information as clearly and simply as possible. In order to do so, use language that tells the audience what they need to know in the simplest way possible. Say what you want to say as simply as possible. Don’t overcomplicate your language for no reason.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t “implement” promises, but “keep” them.

This goes hand in hand with Lewis’s previous nugget of advice. Use plain, direct language in your presentation. You won’t sound smarter by using a ten-dollar word when a five-dollar word will do. Rather, you might come across as pretentious. Don’t alienate your audience with obscure language. Be as direct as possible.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

Mr. Lewis is adamant about the importance of clear, direct language, isn’t he? Minimize abstraction as much as possible with the language you use. Be as clear and concrete as possible.

4.  Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. Instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified.

Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please, will you do my job for me?”

This may be the best bit of Lewis’s advice, as it’s basically a snarky version of ‘show, don’t tell.’ Engage your audience by using vivid language that describes a situation instead of simply telling the audience how it made you feel using a range of blasé adjectives.

Remember presentation skill coach Jerry Weissman’s advice: Don’t make the audience think. Describe situations so clearly and in such a compelling nature that the audience won’t have any question as to what happened or how it made you feel.

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Lewis’s last piece of advice again addresses the need to use clear, precise language. Don’t exaggerate in your description of something as that would be an easy way to mislead your audience.

Above all, if we are to follow Lewis’s advice in our presentations, use language that is as direct and to-the-point as possible. Your presentation will be much more accessible and well-received if you eliminate abstract, unclear language altogether.

About the Author:

Scott Schwertly is the CEO and founder of Ethos 3, a leading presentation design and training company. From big names like Guy Kawasaki to big companies like Google, Pepsico, and NBC Universal, Ethos 3 has been responsible for bringing the message home. For more information about Ethos 3, visit http://www.ethos3.com/

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