Tips for speaking in plain English
By Jane Ilsley
Every field has its jargon—lawyers, historians, bureaucrats—it’s not only scientists that are guilty.
We get so immersed in our work, we forget which words are appropriate for speaking to others outside our sphere—even colleagues in other disciplines don’t have the same jargon.
The best presentations include everyone at the start—by painting the big picture. There is no need to lose half your audience in the first five minutes by confusing them with acronyms and jargon.
Here are some tips for making your presentation accessible to all:
Use words that people understand—e.g. plants not flora, bacteria/virus not pathogen
Avoid formal language—why say “utilise” when “use” works just as well?
Use metaphors, similes and analogies to explain complex concepts—”it works like a coffee maker”, the cell is a factory.
Avoid acronyms, bureaucratic and buzz words—indicator, innovation, stakeholder. Think about what the words actually mean before you say them.
Use concise sentences which are easy for the audience to digest.
Take pauses—a pause feels like eternity for the speaker but not for the audience. Remember, they have never heard this information before and it needs time to sink in.
The equipment I use works like a coffee machine. Image: Pixabay