How to use words to your advantage when you speak

The words you use can make the difference between a good speech and a great speech. They can keep your audience engaged, interested and allow audience members to paint mental images of what you say. Only a few general principles should be followed to use good language when speaking.

The magic of synonyms

I didn’t like language classes at school, it felt boring and uninteresting. Numbers, maths, and geography were far more interesting to me instead. However, one language lesson from Year 4 when I was 8 years old stands out in my mind. Our teacher was sick that day, so we attended somebody else class. The teacher invited the class to write a short text about doctors. She then proceeded to explain that there were many ways to call a doctor, a doctor. A doctor could be a medic, a physician, a health practitioner or even a “doc”. I was astonished, so much so that I ended up taking an active part in the lesson.

The English language has over 600,000 words and many of these are synonyms for each other. If you’re speaking or presenting, it would be a waste not to use this treasure trove of material. A good way to begin is to go online and check a dictionary of synonyms. A long-term way is to continuously seek to broaden your vocabulary. Synonyms offer other interesting possibilities too.

Descriptive words are the best words

Putting red into a dictionary of synonyms finds nearly 50 other ways of saying that something is ‘red’. Some of these are flaming, glowing, wine and cherry. These words are very good words to use when speaking and presenting. Why? Because they are very descriptive and relatable. Almost everybody knows what a flame is, most people in your audience will have had cherries at some point too. Using these words into your speech will immediately trigger mental images in the minds of your audience members.

Descriptive words and language are best used alongside stories and characters. They can also bring a complex subject to life and spice-up technical presentations. They can be used alongside each other for added emphasis. For example, using some of the earlier words could lead to “The pieces of coal are heated in the furnace into flaming red berries”. If the words fire-up your imagination, then you’re on the right track!


Remember, that it is easy to overdo the use of descriptive language and complex words. One of the things I loved doing when I started my speaking journey, was using rhyming words and sentences. Some people loved it; some people hated it. Just like all the good things, it is all about finding the right balance. Sometimes less is more, especially when it comes to word complexity. If I look again at the synonyms of red we found earlier. Some of the words are quite complicated, ‘carmine’ is one of them, ‘geranium’ is another one and ‘crimson’ is the last one. Because these words are uncommon, they might be new to some audience members, especially if English is their second language.

Beyond this, some words are simply very complicated. Let’s take cornucopia and conundrum for example. The first one is extremely uncommon and unlikely to be known by anybody without education in classics. The second one is more common but very difficult to pronounce and enunciate. In both instances, synonyms like ‘wealth’, ‘abundance’ or ‘enigma’ can do the job just as well. If you have to deliver technical presentations, use synonyms to simplify your language for your audience.

Get in touch with me if you’re an engineer, scientist or financial professional keen to use your words better to be understood. I would love to run my course called Clearly Communicating Complexity for you.

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