3 Sacrifices that Will Take Your Stories to New Heights

Craig ValentineMy mother was an English teacher. My wife’s mother was an English teacher. My wife is an English teacher. Therefore, I try my best to be grammatically correct. However, in public speaking, I do not believe you must use good grammar at all times. There are times when I sacrifice correct grammar for something that is more important in speaking. What is that?


That’s right. To me, rhythm trumps grammar much of the time. The following are three sacrifices I suggest you make in order to take your speaking way past where most speaker will go.


One: Sacrifice your grammar for your rhythm

Watch the following few lines in one of my speeches:

What’s wrong with that line? Well, I said, “When we make excuses for someone, we invite them never to change.” That’s grammatically incorrect. Instead, I should have said the following:

“When we make excuses for someone, we invite him or her never to change.” This is because I am speaking about one person (i.e. .someone).

However, if I said it in a grammatically correct way, do you see how it would have messed up my rhythm? That’s why I choose to use “them” instead of using the phrase “him or her.” Grammatically it is wrong but rhythmically it is right.


Two: Sacrifice your grammar for your characters

The other time I sacrifice grammar in speaking is when I use character dialogue. Not all of our characters use correct grammar when they speak. Remember, in speaking, you should say it how you heard it. For example, if one of your characters says, “He ain’t no good for you,” then you should say it how he said it. Changing it to “He is not any good for you” changes the truth and the flavor of that character and tears away the story’s integrity.  Keep your characters true to who THEY are.

If a character in your story used slang, then use slang. If he spoke slowly, then speak slowly. If she never finished her sentences, then don’t finish her sentences. Be true to your characters even if you have to occasionally sacrifice grammar. Keep in mind that you can get away with things inside your story that you cannot get away with when you are outside of your story having a conversation with your audience.


Three: Sacrifice your Writing

I strongly suggest that you speak like you talk. If you are using words in your speeches that you don’t normally use when you talk, you aren’t being the real you on stage.

Speak like you talk, not like you write

I witness so many speakers saying lines like, “She replied, ‘I am going out for a run.’” Do you really talk that way (i.e. “She replied”) in real life? if so, keep doing it onstage. However, most people just say, “She said, ‘I’m going out for a run.” Too many speakers speak like they write instead of speaking like they talk.

That Sounds Written

Here’s a surefire way to know a speaker is speaking like he writes rather than like he talks. He puts the narration at the end of the line of dialogue. For example, he says something like the following

“If you don’t give up that habit, you will die,” I said.

Don’t put the narration (i.e. I said) at the end of the line of dialogue. That’s what people do in writing. When you speak like you talk, you put the narration in front like this:

I said, “If you don’t give up that habit, you will die.”

In addition to delivering a spoken article, putting the narration first is also important because it empowers you to put the most important word at the end of the sentence. For example, what’s the most important word of that dialogue? It’s “die,” not “said.” So put the narration first and set up the dialogue to have the most impact.

Final Suggestion:

Writing is very important in business, speaking, and in life. After all, if I didn’t write, you would not be reading this. However, it’s important to speak like you talk and not like you write. Speak your way into speaking. How? Write down an idea and start speaking extemporaneously about it. You will start to turn a mess into a message. After all, if you split up the words MESSAGE, you will just find a MESS with AGE. You have a mess that, over time, turns into a message.

Once you speak your way into that message, you can record it, have it transcribed (I use a great apps such as reflectly  and yoodli that automatically transcribe my thinking out loud) and then review it. This works well because you can now make tweaks to the page that will end up on stage. And the page started off as a spoken message.






Craig Valentine

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