Public Speaking Secret: Think Haiku

I recently worked with a writer who was preparing to interview a well-known artist at a retrospective honoring his decades-long contribution to the world of crafts. The interview was set up much like Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton, where the interviewer and interviewee are on a large stage. The audience was made up of several hundred family members, friends and followers of this great artist.  


The writer, famous in her own right, has written for top news publications and magazines like The New York Times Magazine and the Atlantic, but she had limited experience as a public speaker, which is why she sought my services.


Preparedness is Key

She came to our session well prepared with pages of pertinent and meaningful questions that she hoped would showcase the profound influence this man has had on the world of craft. She was intent in keeping the spotlight solely on him with no distractions, so she polished her questions to the letter.  


She spoke like she wrote using long, descriptive, often beautiful sentences that meandered and morphed into deep and complicated thoughts. While her writing style was powerful and effective, it wasn’t translating into her speech. In fact, she was creating the exact opposite of what she was trying to achieve. Her long, convoluted sentences were truly distracting!


An Immutable Law of Public Speaking

I shared with her this important rule – one of the immutable laws of public speaking: Keep your sentences short. Use eight to thirteen words per sentence so that your thoughts are bundled in a pattern that is simple, clear and easy to understand.  


“Oh,” she said. “So this is more like Haiku than Historical Biography.”


“Yes,” I said, “that’s the perfect analogy!” (Japanese Haiku is a form of poetry that is typically structured with 10-17 syllables in a 5 -7- 5 pattern.)  


And I added (drum roll please):


“Keep each sentence brief.

When sentences are short, sweet,

Someone will listen.”


And by the way, Haiku is perfect for Twitter posts too.