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Writing vs. Speaking: Two Very Different Ways to Get Your Ideas Across

Here’s a challenge for you: find a memo or brochure about your organization or the products you sell — any written text at least five paragraphs long. Now read it out loud into a recording device. (You’re probably holding one in your smartphone.)

Tell the truth… were you able to read it all the way through from start to finish without stumbling, mispronouncing anything or tripping over a word, name or phrase? (Most people — not even trained announcers — can’t on the first try.)

Even if you didn’t flub a line, listen objectively to your recording. You can almost always tell that you’re reading written words. You just don’t sound natural, genuine. You’ll sound, well, scripted. And in our media-savvy world, “scripted” is just another word for “phony.”

It’s not just what you say.

Often, vital business messages must be delivered verbally. They’re spoken during presentations or webinars; at tradeshows; during media interviews; or at meetings with employees, clients, government regulators or the public. Yet the majority of business people (and a surprising percentage of senior executives) remain more comfortable, more conversant and more accomplished with communicating in writing than by speaking.

Understanding the different strategies and skills for delivering verbal messages is knowledge worth acquiring. (Here’s an in-depth look.) How you look and sound while speaking affects your clarity and credibilty, thus determining how effective you are at persuading people to embrace and act upon your ideas.

Master two steps to become a powerful speaker.

Regardless of the situation in which you will be speaking, effective verbal communication requires two unique preparation steps.

Step One: Whatever messages you intend to deliver, they must be developed to be complete units of thought, using a method EMA’s media and presentation trainers call “talking backwards.”

Simple talking points or mere “sound bites” are insuffient for preparing strong messages. Messages must be fully supported assertions designed to lead the recipient to a persuasion-, information- or empathy-based conclusion — in other words, a complete start-to-finish thought.

The most powerful verbal messages are carefully constructed to include three components: [1] a statement or assertion, followed by [2] proof or examples to back it up and [3] an explantion of the implication, or what it means for the listeners.

We call it the “3P Formula” — Point + Proof + Payoff.

To illustrate…

Here’s a mere claim:
“I think the stock market is going up.”

Now here’s a fully formed message:
“Evidence tells us the stock market is heading up [Point]. We know the Fed is easing [Proof 1], corporations are flush with cash [Proof 2] and the S&P 500’s future earnings projections are up 3% [Proof 3]. So it’s a great time to add to your IRA [Payoff].”

Clearly, their persuasive powers are quite different.

Applying the 3P Formula automatically enables “talking backwards,” because it requires the speaker to put the conclusion first — in other words, beginning each message with “What’s the point?” Communications research tells us this is the way people comprehend best, and it supports both clarity and credibility in every message.

But you mustn’t overlook the critical Step Two: Messages must be practiced spoken out loud — they are not scripts to be read!

Saying them out loud is the only way to identify and remove awkwardisms, stumbles and mispronouncements. Use a recorder. Ask colleagues or others to listen and make suggestions. Edit messages to make them briefer, tighter and crisper, always using your own words. Then learn them so well you can deliver them easily without sounding like you’re reciting a memorized script.

These verbal communications skills can be adapted to the specific demands of each situation and environment. Apply them in your world, and you’ll find yourself becoming a more compelling speaker or presenter.

Peter is the EMA Public Relations + Public Affairs media trainer and executive presentation coach.