Re: Technically Speaking

Subject: Re: Technically Speaking
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 16 Aug 2002 03:54:50 -0400

John Fleming wrote:

One area I am thinking of looking at is the differences between the written environment and the spoken environment. In the written environment, a reader can go back and reread something to get a better understanding, or can refer to a dictionary when encountering an unknown word. The same isn't true of spoken environment--especially in a situation where the audience can't ask questions.


This is an area I've spent some time considering. It seems to me that different rhetorical contexts require modification of both diction and style. The old dictum that we should write as we speak is seriously flawed.

One of the things I get to do on a regular basis (lucky me!) is edit documents written by people who are effective speakers--and who do, in fact, write as they speak. So I get to see, right there on the monitor, the things that effective speakers do that do not work in print.

The main thing I notice is that ideas get stretched out. Sentences get longer, surprisingly, in two ways. One way they get longer is through the inclusion of lots of content-free syllables: throat-clearing clauses; fifty-cent words instead of nickel words (within instead of in, firstly instead of first, etc.) The other way they get longer is with a recursive, cascading sentence structure. Listen to NPR reporters. They all write clearly for oral presentation. You know exactly what they are saying. But they are relying on the modulation of the voice to convey the relationships among clauses in very long and complex sentences. If you had the same text in front of you to transform into a newspaper article, the first thing you would do is start chopping long, complicated sentences into paragraphs of shorter sentences.

This then, taken in reverse, becomes advice for the technical communicator who wants to speak effectively. If you write a nice tight essay that reads well on paper and then stand up and read it aloud--or even memorize it and deliver it while making eye contact with the audience--you are going to sound brusque. (I know, because I get that a lot.) Padding the prose--restating your points, using even more examples, stretching, stretching, stretching, stopping to tell a story or a joke--makes you friendlier to the audience. It slows you down so they have more time to absorb what you are saying. It gives them time for their attention to wander and still feel they are keeping up with you when their attention wanders back. Standing up, writing the theorem on the whiteboard, and sitting down to wait for questions is not an effective technique for oral presentation, in other words. <g>


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Re: Technically Speaking: From: John Fleming

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