Peggy Noonan, who wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan has said: ‘Once you’ve finished the first draft of your speech – stand up and speak it aloud. Where you falter, alter.’ That applies especially to speeches, of course: in that case you’re trying to produce something that’s hard to stumble over when spoken aloud. Tongue-twisters such as ‘red lorry, yellow lorry’ are easier on the page than in the mouth. But it is also good advice to the prose writer. There is a developmental connection between reading aloud and reading silently – and there is a neurological one too.
In here delightful book, On Speaking Well, Peggy Noonan (who wrote speeches for former Presidents Bush and Reagan) tells a story about Coco Chanel that illustrates this important distinction. Chanel believed that the hallmark of a great dress was that it didn’t call too much attention to itself. Thus if a woman walked into a room wearing one of her dresses and everyone said, “What a fabulous dress!” she had failed. Success came when the woman walked into the room and people said, “You look fabulous!”
In the same way, a presenter fails if people say “What a great presentation!”.
“It’s over.” “It’s a boy.” “We’re going to win.” “He’s dead.” These are the words of big events. Because they are big you speak with utter and unconscious concentration as you communicate them. You unconsciously edit out the extraneous, the unneeded. (When soldiers take a bullet they don’t say, “I have been shot,” they say, “I’m hit.”)
Good hard simple words with good hard clear meanings are good things to use when you speak. They are like pickets in a fence, slim and unimpressive on their own but sturdy and effective when strung together.
Excerpt from: On Speaking Well by Peggy Noonan