How Do You Build The Sentences That You Use In Your Speeches?

by drjim on April 12, 2016

We build our speeches word by word

We build our speeches word by word
Image Credit: Bill Jacobus

I like to give powerful and effective speeches – that’s what the importance of public speaking is all about. The trick to doing this well is to create a speech that is going to be well received by my next audience. When you take a step back and look at what I have to work with, it’s not a lot. Really, it’s mainly words. What this means is that the construction of a good speech starts with the words that you choose and how you go about using them. Ultimately this comes down to mastering the grammar that we use to build our speeches.

Splitting Infinitives Is Ok

Jenny Baranick is an English professor who has spent a great deal of time looking into just exactly what is permissible when we are creating sentences to use in our next speech. What she has uncovered is that a number of the things that we’ve all been taught that were supposed to be forbidden turn out to be perfectly ok. Clearly this will end up providing us with even more building material with which to create our next speech.

One of the low hanging fruits when it comes to language construction that we’ve been banned from using in the past is something called a “split infinitive”. Just like me, you really don’t even have to know what an infinitive is as it relates to grammar in order to know that whatever it is, you really should not be doing it. However, the good news is that Jenny has discovered that it’s ok to go ahead and split your infinitives.

So just exactly what are we talking about here? Well basically a split infinitive occurs when you take an infinitive (the word “to” and a simple verb like “run”) and you place an adverb in between them. The end result of this is that “to run” turns into “to quickly run”. Although we’ve been told not to do this, it turns out that it’s really ok when we’re creating a speech. In fact in certain cases it can help us with the rhythm of our speech and it can help us to maintain our emphasis and the meaning of our speech.

Ending Sentences With Prepositions Is Ok Also

If we all go back to elementary school English for just a moment, we’ll probably have yet another shared memory. This one will have to do with prepositions. Perhaps I should take just a moment of your time and remind you of just what the heck a preposition is. It turns out that they are a short word that is trying to express a relationship between things. Good examples include: on, at, to, for, off, with, below, and above.

What we were taught in school that as useful as these little words are, we must always remember to not end sentences with them. However, once again Jenny has done some homework here and it turns out that this rule is just made up. Go ahead and when you are building your next speech, feel free to end as many of your sentences with prepositions as you like. However, keep in mind that you need to avoid tacking them on to the end of a sentence if they are not needed: “Where are you going to be at?” does not require an ending preposition.

Using “And” And “But” To Start Your Sentences

One more trip back to your early school days will bring up the memory of being told that it is never acceptable to start a sentence using either the word “and” or the word “but”. The thinking behind this rule is pretty simple. Both of these words are considered to be “connector” words. That means that they should really be used to join two things together. Clearly they can’t be performing this task if you use them to start a sentence.

However, once again, it turns out that we’ve been taught incorrectly. Both of these words are perfectly acceptable to use at the start of a sentence. In fact, when you are creating a speech you may want to do so because they will add to the impact of your words – your audience may not be expecting you to do it and so you’ll capture their attention. However, the same experts who give us permission to use these words at the start of a sentence also caution us: don’t overdo it. Too much usage and you’ll dilute the impact.

What All Of This Means For You

People who give speeches are very much like artists in my opinion. However, unlike true artists we don’t have a collection of different colors and paints with which to work. Instead, we really only have our words with which to deliver the benefits of public speaking. That’s why how we build our sentences is so very important. We’ve been told that there are a number of ways to put words together that we should avoid; however, it turns out that many of these so called “rules” are not correct.

These rules include the one where we’ve been told that we should not split Infinitives. It turns out that adding an adverb between an infinitive and a simple verb is perfectly ok. Additionally, we’ve been told that we should not end a sentence with a preposition. However, once again this turns out to be an acceptable thing to do. Finally, the words “and” and “but” can be used to capture our audiences attention when we use them to start a sentence.

When we are creating our next sentence we need to take the time to use all of the words and sentence construction tools that are available to us. The more time that we spend creating memorable phrases, the better our chances of being remembered by our audiences. Don’t feel limited by grammar rules that you think that you learned in elementary school – set your speech construction free!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: How many sentences in one speech do you think that you could start with “and” or “but”?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

You’ve been asked to give a speech on your idea which you just happen to know is the best idea in the whole wide world. The problem that you are facing is that your audience doesn’t know this. When you find yourself in this situation, you are going to have to use your speaking skills to convince a skeptical audience that your idea is the right idea.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

sam pereez April 13, 2016 at 10:25 am

This was a very informative article.

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Keith Emery April 14, 2016 at 3:20 pm

Thanks. This points up the differences between looking right (on paper) and sounding good. Unfortunately they aren’t always the same–the intended audience makes a huge difference.

Reply

drjim April 19, 2016 at 4:22 pm

Keith: you bring up a very good point. The trick is to be able to do both — look right on paper and sound even better in person!

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