Three Sacrifices That Will Improve Your Speaking

That's me with 13 Certified World Class Speaking Coaches early this year in Vegas

My mother was an English teacher. My wife is an English teacher. Therefore, I can’t help but to believe that it’s important to use correct grammar most of the time when we speak. I say “most of the time” because there are times when I sacrifice correct grammar for something that is more important in speaking. What is that? Rhythm.

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 people will ever go.

  Sacrifice # 1: Sacrifice grammar for rhythm  

Listen to the following line 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 say it correctly, can you see how it messes up my rhythm? That’s why I choose to use “them” instead of saying the phrase “him or her.” Grammatically it is wrong; rhythm-wise it is right.


Sacrifice #2: Sacrifice your grammar for your characters

The other time I sacrifice grammar in speaking is when I use character dialogue. All of our characters don’t speak with correct grammar. 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 say it how he said it. Changing it to “He isn’t any good for you” changes the truth 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 broken English, then speak broken English. If your character never finished sentences, then don’t finish his or 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 in your story that you cannot get away with outside of your story when you are having a conversation with your audience.

Say it how you heard it

Sacrifice #3: Sacrifice how you write for how you talk

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? 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.

A clue that some people speak like they write

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.

Never 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 avoiding 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. What’s the most important word of that previous dialogue? It’s “die,” not “said.” Putting the narration first to set up the dialogue gives you the greatest impact.

Final Thoughts

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 begin to turn that mess into a message. After all, if you split up the words MESSAGE, you’ll see it’s just a “MESS” with “AGE.” You have a mess that, over time, turns into a message.

The problem is that many speakers aren’t willing to go through the mess to get to the message. Instead, they try to go straight to the message. That does not work.

Once you speak your way into that message, you can record it, have it transcribed (I utilize Becki at 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. You will speak like you talk.

What are the strategies you use to speak like you talk and not like you write?

Craig Valentine

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