JS Tip 216: From the Public-speaking Workshops: Speakers and Language

Last week, we talked about how great speakers use simple language. We used the Fog Index to measure their texts. (The Fog Index identifies the number of years of education required to understand the text.)   

Let’s look at two more speakers. One you know. One you’ve probably never heard of.  

Colin Powell’s speeches are simple and straightforward. Here’s a part of his speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention: 

Yet, I cannot ignore that in my travels I’ve also seen poverty, failing communities, people who’ve lost hope.

Tragically, I’ve seen too many young Americans who are overwhelmed by the daily struggle just to survive. I’ve seen kids destroying themselves with drugs. Kids who see violence and crime as the answer to their hopelessness. Kids who no longer believe in themselves and who don’t see a reason to believe in America. . . .

A Fog Index of 10.19. Easier to understand than most newspapers.

Edward Everett was the primary speaker at the dedication of the military cemetery at Gettysburg. (President Lincoln was the secondary speaker. The undercard.) A portion:  

Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature. . . .  

A Fog Index of 25.42. Hard—almost impossible—for us to follow. (Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address indexes at 10.34. He thought his speech was a failure.)  

So what are we saying? If you’re going to speak, keep it simple. Use short words and short sentences. We love this stuff. 

If you’d like to know more about The Fog Index, let us know. We’ll send you some information.