Plain Speech

Plain Speech


Being clear is as important when speaking as it is when writing.  Sometimes though, it seems more elusive.  I know that’s true for me, maybe because talking is easy and writing is hard. 

Recently some excellent examples of clear speech have turned up in my Facebook feed.

The first is a brilliant, 1 minute 29 second explanation of why China continues to support whatever weird thing North Korea does.  (I’m writing this blog on August 11, after a week in which President Trump and Kim Jong Un have been trading threats and insults, so it seems especially relevant.) Rob Schmitz uses clear language and illustration to make his point.  The economy of language in this makes me happy every time I watch it.

In this next video, 18-year-old Ryan Chester explains Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.  His explanation is simple, clear, and sometimes funny.  I finally get it, which I didn’t during either high school or university physics.  Ryan won a big prize for this video -- $400,00 US! -- which offers hope to plain language writers everywhere.

My final good example addresses the importance of tailoring your message to your audience.  In this video, Bobby Kasthuri from the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois explains the concept of the “connectome” to a five-year-old, a 13-year-old, a college student, a neuroscience grad student, and someone working in the field of neuroscience.  He tailors each message to the level of understanding and background knowledge of his listener.  I had never heard of the connectome when I first came across this video, so I found it interesting to notice how my own understanding of the idea and its implications grew as I followed the increasingly detailed discussions.

To summarize, whether you are speaking or writing your message, be brief, be clear, and consider the background knowledge of your audience.

About the Author

Jan Catano is a Health Education Consultant with over 30 years experience in developing health information tailored to the needs of specific audiences.