Powerful Presentations: The Genius of Plain Language

A presentation is a performance. It’s your opportunity to get out front and dazzle an audience while you play the leading role. And the secret to an outstanding presentation performance is to keep it real.
Perhaps that sounds like a contradiction, but it is not–not when you realize that as lead performer, you are playing the role of trusted advisor and good friend.
As soon as you understand you are delivering your presentation in the role of trusted advisor and good friend, you’ll recognize the importance of using everyday, conversational language–the kind of conversational language friends use when they meet for lunch. There are lots of “you” and “I” and “we” in friendly conversation because real people use real language-and that includes personal pronouns. Lots of them.
There is very little passive voice in friendly conversation because real people generally speak in clear, uncomplicated, assertive sentences. There are few ten dollar words spilled over lunch because they interfere with the good conversation and friendly vibes.
Eliminate the business-isms. Friends don’t search for the longest word they can spout when a short, crisp alternative works better. Friends don’t talk to impress; they talk to express.
Real people engaged in friendly conversation use real, everyday language to communicate without pretension or an air of self importance. I call it shirtsleeve English. Use it.
Now that may be exactly what you think you are doing. But are you? Last month I worked with a group of bankers eager to tell prospective customers they provide, “Mission Critical Solutions.” A few days ago I received an e-mail from someone in computers whose department title is: “Mission Critical Solutions.” Last week, I met with an insurance company whose new branding requires everyone describe their latest product enhancements as — you guessed it — Mission Critical Solutions.
So, what should a listener understand by “Mission Critical Solutions”? Apparently, it means anything and everything — which translates into: it means nothing at all.
 Until now, your company may have prospered by having everyone spout the old favorites; “fundamental integrated research” is a goodie. “Unique value added solutions” is an old standby. “Committed to partnering with our clients” is probably in every sales presentation I’ve seen in the last decade.
But real people don’t talk that way. Nobody facilitates with the dishes or utilizes the car. When people want to be understood by people they care about, they talk real language. And so should you.
Eliminate the jargon, the platitudes, and the precious marketing-speak. Use the human touch to make human connections–because that’s where you’ll get the big payoff from this performance. Be easy to understand. Grab your audience with your sincerity. Inspire them with your real-ness.
Be real. Think of Bill Clinton and his down-home style that commands six figures for a one-hour talk. Consider Ronald Reagan who relied on simple conversational language to dismantle the mighty USSR. Remember Steve Jobs whose ordinary, everyday words were spellbinding. Not one of those great speakers used slang or was sloppy in his speech. Each used good, conversational English to make real human connections. The truth is, plain language can be pure genius.
A presentation is a performance. Be smart enough to keep your language plain and simple. Play the part of trusted advisor and friend-and that is what you will become. It pays.

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