General Information on Spoken Texts

Differences between spoken and written texts

In general, the same rules apply for spoken texts as for written ones:

  • use simple language
  • keep subordinate clauses short
  • prefer verbs to nouns (not: The meaning of this is that …, but: This means that …)
  • avoid slang and techy language

As listeners cannot take up as many information as readers, do also keep the following rules in mind when preparing a text that is to be presented orally:

  • Keep your sentences short and simple.
  • Avoid participal constructions. (In written texts they are often used to increase the density of information in a sentence. In spoken texts, however, they make it more difficult for the listeners to follow.)

Listeners' attention

You surely know that it is not always easy to follow a lecture or presentation. On the other hand, imagine how a speaker must feel if nobody is listening. With just a few tricks, however, you can win your audience's attention:

  • Speak clearly and slowly. Use simple words and short sentences.
  • Have little breaks in between the sentences to allow your audience to reflect on what has been said.
  • Communicate freely (don't read the whole text from a piece of paper).
  • Outline to the audience how your paper is structured. (e.g. I will first explain … / Then I will … / After that … / Finally …) and indicate when you come to another sub-topic (I will now talk about …). This way your audience can follow your presentation more easily.
  • Use pictures and graphics as an illustration.
  • Use a rhetorical question or hypophora from time to time. Your listeners will think that you've asked them a question and thus listen more attentively.
  • Use enumerations starting first / second / third. This also draws your audience's attention.

Tip: Depending on the topic or your audience, you can also hand out questions that your listeners have to answer during the presentation, or you announce that there will be a quiz in the end. That will definitely make your audience listen very attentively.

For an even more sophisticated presentation, use some of the stylistic devices typical for spoken texts, e.g.:

A joke or a quotation might also help you keep your listeners' attention. Don't overdo it, however. Using stylistic devices, jokes or quotations where they don't fit in might not have the effect you want.

Very important: Don't try to show off your knowledge of English using complex sentences or difficult words. Always keep your audience in mind: they need to follow your presentation and will therefore appreciate simple language and sentence structure.