Monday, October 5, 2009

Grammar in Speaking: Learn Yourself Good.

Image courtesy of the Simpson's Chalkboard Generator.

Notice I didn’t say good grammar – though as Public Speakers it is a primary goal. Our use of grammar is a reflection of who we are, from our upbringing to our education, from our geographic point of origin to our economic class. Correctly or incorrectly, grammar is a tent pole on which we are evaluated, judged, and categorized.

5 Effective Uses of Grammar:

1. Incorrectly
To make a point. Incorrect grammar in the midst of an otherwise grammatically correct presentation will draw attention to your point. Use this to either illustrate a mistake or to create humor.

2. Colloquially
But tread lightly! In the South, using “y’all” is appropriate, although still best used for humor unless you are a Southerner yourself. But beware over-usage, which may be mistaken for disrespect. I added an 'eh?' to my speech at the World Championship of Public Speaking in Calgary, thinking "it's been a running joke all week, why not?" It didn't prove helpful to the speech. While it didn't turn the crowd against me, it's non-effectiveness equated to ineffectiveness in that situation.

3. Simply
Don’t risk confusion. Many speakers spend hours to hone a sentence for the perfect phrasing, and the result will often leave the audience straining to remember (or even understand) the fancy words.

4. Clever Phrasing

Triads and Alliterations.

a. Triads are words in threes, often with the same first letter, such as big, bad, and bodacious. Presenting ideas in threes is one of the oldest tricks in the book – our minds are trained to pick up on triads – not too little, not too much.

b. Alliterations are words that sound the same used to make a point: expect my advice to be concise and precise.

5. Correctly
What a concept! Correct usage of whatever language you are speaking in identifies you as intelligent, learned, and credible. It allows the audience to focus on the meaning of your message instead of critiquing the words from which it’s built.

An often over-looked grammatical faux pas is the umm, err, ah method of stalling or regaining thought. While many speakers dismiss this concept, saying it “keeps them real”, who would you rather listen to? I go nuts listening to someone say uh 20 times as they work to make their point, regardless of their inherent genius.

The best approach when you are grasping for words or concepts is silence. It’s never as long as you think it is, and it almost always makes you look thoughtful and ponderous. It will often work in your favor, underlining the point you have just made.

Your use of grammar as a speaker will work to build your image to the audience. Poor grammar will often pigeonhole you as a pretender and limit your opportunities. Strong and creative use of grammar will set you apart from the crowd, and add to your credibility on the stage as you Speak & Deliver!

If grammar is a weakness, (and just ask a few family members, they’ll tell you), fix it. Take a class at a community college, or go buy a book and analyze a recording of your last presentation. Use grammar check when you write. As my old English teacher used to say: “You must know the rules in order to know when to break them.” This investment in yourself is well worth your time and money!

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