Variations in Language

Variations in Directness

Use force and directness to add dynamic contrast and texture to your speech.

Learning Objectives

Use force and directness appropriately in your speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Force and directness are both cause and effect. They are not solely the use of loudness, strong words, or emphatic gestures, but may cause them.
  • Use directness and force when you have particularly emphatic points to make.
  • Be authentic and genuine. Use ideas, your feelings on your subject, wording, and delivery to convey force, directness, and conviction.
  • Avoid being pushy, overbearing, or intimidating.

Key Terms

  • direct: Straight, constant, without interruption.

Variations in Directness

Booker T. Washington delivers the Atlanta Compromise speech.

Directness: Knowing when and how to use directness in your speech can strengthen the impact on the audience.

“Omit the thunder of delivery, if you will, but put ‘silent lightning’ into your speech. Make your thoughts breathe and your words burn. ” – J. Berg. Esenwein, The Art of Public Speaking

What is Directness?

Directness is a state of being straight, constant, and without interruption. With regards to public speaking, directness refers not only to how you address your audience in both style and tone, but the force behind that style and tone. A better way to think about force and directness is to consider what they are not.

Force and directness are not:

  • Speaking loudly (but force and directness may cause you to raise your voice)
  • Using wild, violent gestures (but force and directness may cause you to gesture more emphatically)

As you can see, force and directness can be both cause and effect. Essentially, directness adds emphasis to your words, showing earnest conviction in your beliefs and arguments, thereby making your speech more evocative and persuasive to your audience. From a stylistic perspective, force and directness add moments of dynamic contrast to your speech.

When to Use It

Directness and force are not always appropriate in every speech and should be used with care. You don’t want to come across as overbearing, pushy, or threatening to your audience. That said, if you are giving a speech where you must convey a persuasive argument, directness and force may be appropriate.

Any time you are speaking about your own personal beliefs, values, or principles, you may find that force and directness naturally occur as you speak, since you are already so deeply invested in your own beliefs, values, and principles.

How to Use It

Force and directness can be controlled by four factors: ideas, your feeling about the subject, wording, and delivery.


Certain ideas in your speech may lend themselves to force and directness. As you craft your speech, see which ideas rise to the top with regard to force and directness, and adjust your style accordingly.

Your Feelings

What are your gut feelings on your subject? Are you inspired, humbled, enraged? Capitalize on your own emotional response to determine if a section of your speech could be more forceful or direct than others.


Vivid words, phrases, and imagery are essential in crafting a forceful section of your speech. Use evocative language, powerful imagery, and compelling anecdotes to get your point across.


Don’t be shy about using force or directness with your audience. Feel the conviction of your own words. Be authentic, genuine, and consistent.

Variations in Abstraction

While abstract descriptions should usually be avoided, abstraction can be used to your advantage when used correctly.

Learning Objectives

Give examples of the uses of abstraction in a speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Abstract descriptions are vague and not specific.
  • Abstraction is a good technique to use if your audience already has a working knowledge of any part of your speech. You can save time and keep your audience engaged by not boring them with material or levels of understanding they already have.
  • If you are too abstract, you may confuse your audience.
  • To test if your speech is too abstract or over-described, have another person read your speech draft and summarize your main points back to you.

Key Terms

  • abstract: Difficult to understand; abstruse.

Variations in Abstraction

What Does It Mean to Be Abstract?

Abstractions are ideas that are not described in specifics. They cannot be physically sensed (seen, heard, felt, touched, or smelled). Abstraction lacks representational qualities. Abstract descriptions are in contrast to concrete descriptions. Concrete descriptions cut through any vagueness or amorphous interpretation of an idea.

Examples of Abstract Descriptions

  • A happy child
  • A pretty car
  • A beautiful night
  • An incredible sight

Examples of Concrete Descriptions

  • A three-year old boy
  • A white Lamborghini Aventador
  • A starlit summer evening
  • The wide river-cut rust-colored ravines of the Grand Canyon

While most of the time, you want to avoid abstract descriptions in your speech, there are times when it may be stylistically appropriate.

Mounting the Ladder of Abstraction


Ladder of Abstraction: A good speaker will be able to manoeuvre along the ladder of abstraction.

The Ladder of Abstraction, popularized by S. I. Hayakawa, is based on the idea that people are able to achieve four levels of reasoning.

At the bottom of the ladder is concrete thinking. Children tend to start asking concrete questions about the world around them at the age of eight or nine. “Why is the sky blue? ” “Where did my baby brother come from? ” Once you start hearing questions like these, you know the individual has started to climb the ladder of abstraction.

From that point, humans continue to grow and as they do so, their thinking broadens until they finally reach the top of the ladder: abstraction.

Talented speakers will start at the bottom of the ladder and present a concrete concept to the audience. They will then end on a broader, more abstract note. Thus they will ascende the ladder of abstraction. In doing so, they will generate interest (by use of the concrete point) and then move on to discuss the concept in general.

Advantages of Abstraction

If you audience has a working knowledge of something in your speech, you may not need to get into very finite, concrete detail with them. Using abstraction in this instance saves you time and doesn’t bore your audience with knowledge they may already know.

Disadvantages of Abstraction

The most obvious challenge of using abstraction is assuming that your audience has a certain working knowledge and failing to describe something concretely that may have needed a specific, spelled out description. In this instance, you will confuse your audience if you speak too broadly or vaguely.

Abstraction: Use It or Lose It?

A quick way to test if your speech is too abstract and not specific or concrete enough, share your draft with another person. Ask them to summarize it back to you. If they leave out or gloss over some points, ask them if your speech was clear enough to understand. If they didn’t understand parts, you’ll know which sections to go back to and specify in more concrete detail. Similarly, the person reviewing your speech can let you know if its too detailed.

Variations in Objectivity

Ideally, strive for a balance between subjectivity and objectivity in your speech.

Learning Objectives

List the benefits of speaking with a balance of objectivity and subjectivity

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Objectivity is the ability to remove your personal experience, bias or preference from your speech.
  • Objectivity gives you credibility as an impartial, unbiased speaker and subject matter expert.
  • That said, delivering a speech with 100% objectivity can feel robotic. Sprinkle some subjective moments such as personal anecdotes or how you connect to your topic to still remain relatable to your audience.

Key Terms

  • subjective: The state of being formed, as in opinions, based upon a person’s feelings or intuition, not upon observation or reasoning; coming more from within the observer than from observations of the external environment.
  • objectivity: The state of being objective, just, unbiased and not influenced by emotions or personal prejudices

Variations in Objectivity

German Chancellor Angela Merkel giving a keynote speech.

Finding a Balance: You should strive for a balance between subjectivity and objectivity in your speech.

What Does it Mean to Be Objective ?

When we are subjective in our speech, we put forth our own experience and bias into the conversation. To be objective, then, is to remove yourself from your own experience and bias. For the most part, when it comes to public speaking, you want to remain as objective as possible. The reason for this is because you don’t want your audience to accuse you of bias or preference as you substantiate your argument.

It’s a fine line to walk between subjectivity and objectivity, one that requires you to pay close attention to your own personal biases. One of the easiest ways to determine objectivity is to take a look at the amount of facts, research and data that you have to substantiate your case. If your speech is largely guided by personal thoughts, opinions and beliefs, then it is more likely that your speech is heading into subjective territory.

Advantages of Objectivity

The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages to remain objective throughout your speech. By writing and speaking objectively–that is, removing yourself from the facts, examples, and scenarios– you lend a more compelling case for your credibility as speaker. By sticking to hard facts and data, your audience can trust your impartiality to the subject matter. When they know that you don’t have anything personally invested in the outcome of or response to your speech, they are more likely to trust you as as subject matter expert.

Subjectivity Has Its Place

That said, you can also use objectivity to a point that can actually hurt your speech. By relying solely on hard data and research, your audience may find your speech impersonal and not connect to your material on a personal level. A speech without any personal anecdotes can feel robotic; on the other end of the spectrum, a speech comprised of nothing but anecdotes can feel untrustworthy. It’s your job as speaker to strike that careful balance to use enough subjectivity to be relatable to your audience but not so much as to erode your credibility and authority.

Variations in Orality

Orality is thought and verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy (writing) are unfamiliar to most of the population.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate the qualities of an oral society from that of a literate society

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Oral societies use narrative and repetition for ease of memory.
  • Oral societies use directness and force to express emphasis.
  • Oral expression brings words together in pithy phrases that are the product of generations of evolution.
  • Gestures should be natural and not distracting.
  • If you’re able to answer questions following your speech, always repeat the question before answering so everyone can hear what was asked. If you don’t know an answer, do not lie or make one up; share what relavant information you can.
  • Always have a backup plan when using audio/visual technology for amplification of your voice or visual aids in case this equipment fails.

Key Terms

  • orality: The quality of being spoken or verbally communicated
  • primary orality: Primary orality’ refers to thought and its verbal expression within cultures “totally untouched by any knowledge of writing or print.”


An oral community in Takéo, Cambodia sits together and discusses a writing.

Orality: Modern scholarship has shown that orality is a complex and tenacious social phenomenon.

Orality is thought and verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy (especially writing and print) are unfamiliar to most of the population. The study of orality is closely allied to the study of oral tradition. However, it has broader implications.

In his publications Walter J. Ong, a key scholar in this field, distinguishes between two forms of orality: ‘primary orality’ and ‘secondary orality’. In addition, he refers to ‘oral residue’ and ‘residually oral cultures ‘.

Drawing on hundreds of studies from anthropology, linguistics and the study of oral tradition, Ong summarizes ten key aspects of the ‘psychodynamics of orality’. Ong draws his examples from both primary oral societies, and societies with a very high ‘oral residue’.

Formulaic Styling

Formulaic styling is to package complex ideas memorably for easy retention and recall.

To solve effectively the problem of retaining and retrieving carefully articulated thought, one must think in mnemonic patterns, shaped for ready oral recurrence. Thoughts must come into being in heavily rhythmic, balanced patterns, in repetitions or antithesis, in alliterations or assonances, in epithetic and other formulary expressions.

Anthropologist Marcel Jousse identifies a close linkage between rhythm and breathing patterns, gestures, and the bilateral symmetry of the human body in several ancient verse traditions. This synergy between the body and the construction of oral thought further fuels memory.

Additive Rather Than Subordinative

Oral cultures avoid complex ‘subordinative’ clauses. Ong cites an example from the Douay-Rheims version of Genesis (1609–10), noting that this basic additive pattern (in italics) has been identified in many oral contexts around the world:

In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was on the
of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said …

Demonstrating how oral modes of communication tend to evolve into literate ones, Ong additionally cites the New American Bible (1970), which offers a translation that is grammatically far more complex:

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said …

Aggregative Rather Than Analytic

Oral expression brings words together in pithy phrases that are the product of generations of evolution: the ‘sturdy oak tree’, the ‘beautiful princess’, or ‘clever Odysseus’. The words are brought together out of habit during general communication. Analyzing or breaking apart such expressions adds complexity to communications, and questions received wisdom.

Redundant or Copious

Speech that repeats earlier thoughts or thought-pictures, or shines a different light on them somehow, helps to keep both the speaker and the listener focused on the topic, and makes it easier for all to recall the key points later. Oral cultures encourage fluency, fulsomeness, volubility. Rhetoricians were to call this copia.

Conservative or Traditionalist

Because oral societies have no effective access to writing and print technologies, they must invest considerable energy in basic information management. Storage of information, being primarily dependent on individual or collective recall, must be handled with particular thrift. It is possible to approximately measure oral residue from the amount of memorization the culture’s educational procedures require.

This creates incentives to avoid exploring new ideas, and particularly to avoid the burden of having to store them. It does not prevent oral societies from demonstrating dynamism and change, but there is a premium on ensuring that changes cleave to traditional formulas, and are presented as fitting the traditions of the ancestors.

Close to the Human Lifeworld

Oral cultures take a practical approach to information storage. To qualify for storage, information must usually concern matters of immediate practical concern or familiarity to most members of the society.

By contrast, only literary cultures have launched phenomenological analyses, abstract classifications, ordered lists and tables, etc. Nothing analogous exists in oral societies.

Agonistically Toned

Beowulf fights the dragon: the oral world is agonistic.

Agonistic means ‘combative’, but Ong actually advances a deeper thesis with this point. Writing and to an even greater extent print, he argues, disengage humans from direct, interpersonal struggle.

Empathetic and Participatory

In an oral culture the most reliable and trusted technique for learning is to share a “close, empathetic, communal association” with others who know.


Oral societies conserve their limited capacity to store information, and retain the relevance of their information to the interest of their present members, by shedding memories that have lost their past significance.

Situational Rather Than Abstract

In oral cultures, concepts are used in a way that minimizes abstraction, focusing to the greatest extent possible on objects and situations directly known by the speaker.

Variations in Accuracy

Make sure all sources of information for your speech are accurate, reliable, unbiased, credible, and current.

Learning Objectives

Choose reliable sources when researching in order to assure your speech’s accuracy

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Use scholarly sources such as journal articles, reviews, biographies, and interviews to ensure accuracy and credibility.
  • You can find scholarly sources collected in several online databases.
  • Always cite your sources when and how you can so that you’re never accused of lifting, stealing, or borrowing someone else’s words or work.

Key Terms

  • Accuracy: Exact conformity to truth, or to a rule or model; degree of conformity of a measure to a true or standard value.

Variations in Accuracy

A teacher speaks at the front of a classroom.

Accuracy: Accuracy is vital for a speech to be successful. Make sure your facts are correct!

Why is Accuracy Important?

If you are presenting yourself as a subject matter expert or authority, it’s imperative that you have your facts straight before delivering them to a waiting audience. In the age of fact-checking, it’s especially important to make sure that you have done your homework and fully researched your topic and supporting evidence because chances are, your audience already has. You will only enhance your credibility and authority by making sure your information and sources are solid.

Are Your Sources “Good”?

How do you know if your sources are “good? ” You’ll want to make sure your sources are reliable, unbiased, and current. To do this, seek out information from trustworthy sources. Typically, you’ll turn to scholarly sources such as academic journals, scientific research, or data. You should also understand that scholarly research comes in primary and secondary sources.

A primary source is an original document containing content and data created or collected by the author. Primary sources can include interviews you conduct to gain information and data, collections of letters, lab reports, autobiographical, and literary works. Secondary sources are written about primary sources and include documents such as reviews, critiques, biographies, and other scholarly books or journal articles.

To find academic and scholarly sources, asking your local librarian is one of the best ways to validate whether or not a source you have found is reliable, unbiased, and current. You can also access databases of scholarly sources online, including:

  • Academic Search Premier
  • Project MUSE
  • Entrez-PubMed
  • The MLA International Bibliography
  • PsychINFO
  • ProQuest

A Word About Plagiarism

Always cite your sources whenever or however you can. You never want to be accused of pulling information or data from an unreliable source, or worse yet, just making it up. You also don’t want to be accused of directly lifting, stealing, or even borrowing someone else’s words. Never take someone else’s words and claim them as your own.