During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt once came across a poster from his Civil Defense authorities that read,

“Illumination must be extinguished when premises are vacated.”

F.D.R. was incensed. “Why can’t they just say ‘put out the lights when you leave?’”

At diverse times, one endeavors to overawe personages by employing one’s sophisticated nomenclature, but there are sundry rationale for refraining from this compulsion.

  • It’s difficult to understand. When you communicate, your main goal should be getting your message across.  Even if the other person understands the words you are using, she might have to unpack them before she gets your meaning.
  • It often leads to miscommunication. Mainly for the reason above.  Your audience may go away scratching their head or ready to charge up the wrong hill.
  • It makes you sound either silly or full of yourself. Most people are not impressed with your high-sounding vocabulary.  They are irritated by it.
  • It can be interpreted as an attempt to hide your insecurity. If you are feeling insecure, don’t use big words to cover it.  The technique is somewhat overdone.

Speak clearly and concisely.  Your audience will appreciate it.  Simple words can be powerful and influential.  Consider Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.  Before he delivered it, a man named Edward Everett spoke for two solid hours using all sorts of important-sounding words.  Does anyone remember them?

Lincoln, on the other hand, spoke only ten sentences, and 74% of the words were only one syllable long.  Yet Lincoln’s words are inscribed on his memorial and in our hearts.  We memorized them as school children  (There’s a reason we didn’t memorize Everett’s speech.  School children cannot memorize words that are five and six syllables long!)  Simple is supreme.  When in doubt, remember the KISS formula: Keep It Simple & Synoptic (uh…  Keep It Simple and Succinct… No, ah… Keep It Short & Saccharine… Hmmm… Keep It Sanguine and Sedulous… Er…)


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Filed under Authenticity, communication, public speaking, speaking

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