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The Differences Between Speaking and Writing – Part 1

I was recently an extra on a conference call that illustrated one of the major differences between writing and speaking.

There’s a lot of them, particularly when you want your writing or speaking to be effective. But we’re just covering this one disparity for today.

In the already referenced conference call, someone kept saying, “We want this presentation to be as sharp and focused as possible.” I think she said it a total of five times over the space of an hour, which averages out to once every 12 minutes.

I don’t say that as a bad thing necessarily, and I definitely don’t say it to belittle her. It would be hypocritical of me to do so when I know I can repeat myself while speaking as well… perhaps even a time or two more than necessary every once in a while.

Regardless, it didn’t bother me hearing “We want this presentation to be as sharp and focused as possible” five times. It only caught my attention, which means that it no doubt caught the attention of the people it was meant for.

In turn, that means it served its purpose: to convey the need for... you no doubt guessed it... a sharp and focused presentation.

Bravo, and well done. Just don’t think about transcribing that conference call for people to read and turning it into a best-seller or Page 1 hit on a relevant Google search.

That kind of repetition is much more annoying than effective when laid out in written form.

Out of all the differences between speaking and writing, this is a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

Back when I was a young and innocent editor, subject to the whims and will of a big bad company, one of my responsibilities was to untangle the transcript of a weekly podcast. Trust me when I tell you I’m one to be pitied for that task.

Do you know how annoying it is to transform a verbal conversation into something worth reading?

Very, very much so, to say the least.

Listening to each episode wasn’t so bad. It typically involved a two-sided discussion about investments and investing resources, with different points made and reiterated along the way.

Different tones. Different contexts. All well and good.

But down on paper, it was a visually and mentally repetitive mess. That I got to fix.

More often than not, it would take my entire work afternoon to polish into something presentable.

So why is that? Why is there such a major difference between speaking and writing in this regard?

I’d love to say it’s because we tend to listen faster than we read, making us focus more heavily on each word that’s written versus each word spoken.

But that’s not true. Try listening to an audiobook, and then try reading it. Enough said.

I also don’t think it has everything to do with a speaker’s ability to vary his tone and volume. While that is a definite difference between the two forms of communication, a good writer can more often than not counteract that handicap in ways we’ll discuss next week.

As for this week though, I think we’re just going to have to conclude for the time being that repeating ourselves five times over in a 600-word or two-page post just isn’t a good idea.

Make your point. Restate it if it’s really important. Then move on until the conclusion.

That’s the best way to make your written presentation as sharp and focused as possible.

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