Clear Comm Consulting

Why Good Writing is Not Usually Good Speaking

Mar 31, 2016

Anytime you stand up to speak you should ask yourself, “When I was preparing this was I thinking about the eye or the ear – or did this question even cross my mind?” It is critical and it’s a mistake that happens all of the time. Really smart people put down their best thoughts for a speech or presentation and they get in front of the audience to little or no effect. Why? The ideas and thoughts are very compelling, but they have been prepared in a way best suited for the EYE, not the EAR.

Here is why this is such a common issue. Really smart people are often writing – articles, textbooks, white papers, etc. It’s how they process their thoughts. And if they are speaking it is often in front of a group of like-minded people – classrooms, lecture halls, symposium audiences, etc. Those people are already on the same wavelength – they know the back story most times. (This is why if you walk into the back of a conference meeting for a specific industry you have no idea what they are talking about!)

But here is the critical part. This entire process goes completely off the rails when that same smart person steps in front of a more general audience. If you are or you work with a really smart person this is an important discussion to have, and it starts with this question, “Is your message something which can best be understood by the EYE or the EAR?”

Recently I heard a professor address a business owners group and I would be surprised if he landed even one of his ideas in the brain of the people he was speaking to that day. What a loss. Here is what then happens. The professor is never asked to come back, the audience misses out on his insights and precious time is wasted.
So, here is how this dilemma is solved.

Simplify: This is often really hard for smart people. But, in order to reach someone who is just sitting in front of you (and not an industry expert) they have to hear ideas in a way they can quickly process. Sure, PowerPoint might help and a hand-out might bridge some of the gaps, but we process ideas in bite size pieces or through stories. Can the message this smart person is trying to communicate be stripped down to its essence and then reinforced with a story?

Shorten: Often a smart person wants to tell you everything. We don’t want to know everything. It’s that simple. We already have plenty going on in our lives. Speaking for 45 minutes in a way we don’t understand is not nearly as good as 15 minutes of just one or two good ideas. (And that’s why we have TED Talks!)

Share: The smart person can always continue the conversation by sharing a web site or book or link to additional information or a jump drive with a copy of the full report. At this point I do have to warn you – here’s what may happen. Nothing. Remember, people have a lot of other things going on in their lives – like checking Facebook updates and important things like that! At least the smart person has made every attempt to share the bigger picture without bowling them over in a talk designed more for the eye than the ear.

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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