My 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 when I am 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 speakers will go.
#1 – Sacrifice your grammar for your Rhythm
Listen to the following segment 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) instead of multiple people.
However, if I say it in a grammatically correct way, do you see how it messes 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.
#2 – 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” alters 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 the character spoke in broken English, then speak in broken English. If a character never finished her sentences, 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 grammatically incorrect phrases inside of your story that you probably cannot get away with outside of your story when you are having a conversation with your audience.
#3 – Sacrifice your writing for your Speaking
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.’” What?! Do you really talk that way (i.e. saying “She replied”) in real life? 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.
Put the Narration First
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.
I suggest that you do not 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.”
Putting the narration first is important because it empowers you to keep 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.
Speaking like you talk will help you refrain from delivering a spoken article.
One 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 wordsintoprofits.com) and then review it. This works well because you can then make tweaks to the page that will end up on stage. However, it will sound natural and not written.
When, if ever, do you sacrifice grammar in your speeches?
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