Re: Technically Speaking
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
Reply-To: margulis -at- fiam -dot- net
To: John Fleming <johntwrl -at- hotmail -dot- com>
CC: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Subject: Re: Technically Speaking
Date: Fri, 16 Aug 2002 03:54:50 -0400
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 is an interesting observation.
A lot of what I've come across in public speaking training suggests it is better to keep sentences a bit shorter. Put everything in nice, bite-sized chunks so the listening audience can digest it better.
As to use of voice modulation (and body language) I agree, both of those are important in the spoken medium. Depending on the source of the statistics, the amount of information that is communicated by body language is between 60% and 70%. The actual words themselve only convey about five to seven percent of the information.
As writers, we need to be able to convey a tremendous amount of information in that "five to seven percent" because we don't have the other 93% to 95% to help us.
That's an important difference between the two mediums (and the whole idea behind emote-icons we find in discussion forums like techwr-l).
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>
Yes, the multiple examples and more extensive repetition is important.
You know, I'm enjoying this discussion. It's helping me get my thoughts stright and suggesting other things I know as a speaker that I could include, but which I normally take for granted as a speaker.
Technical Writer and SAS Programmer
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