JS Tip 215: From the Public-speaking Workshops: Great Speakers and Simple Language

The Fog Index measures the number of years of education required to understand a text.

In a recent workshop, we used The Fog Index to measure the written text of several great speeches. The results are fascinating. Great speakers use short words and short sentences. They’re easy to understand.  

President Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Berlin Wall. You’re familiar with it. Here’s a part of it: 

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

President Reagan’s Fog Index is 10.31. Readable. Understandable. In fact, easier to read than most public newspapers.

Senator Barack Obama’s keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The speech brought Senator Obama to national attention. A portion:  

But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place: America, which stood as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before. While studying here, my father met my mother.

Senator Obama’s Fog Index is 9.63. A ninth-grade reading level. (And within seven decimal points of President Reagan’s speech.)

Both speeches are simple. Both speeches are easy to understand. Both speeches use short words and short sentences.

Next week, we’ll finish the discussion. We’ll look at a Colin Powell speech, and at the speech of the primary speaker at Gettysburg. (And, no, the primary speaker wasn’t who you think it was.)

We love this stuff. 

If you’d like to know more about The Fog Index, let us know, and we’ll send you the information.