Thursday, October 21, 2010

Around the Word

Today's tips on speechwriting tact and de-cluttering your prose can help you get your message across in one piece:
  • Veterans of the podium know that the risk of projectiles—shoes, books, or booing—can spike when speaking to an audience that doesn't share your stance. Public speaking expert Nick Morgan advises using rhetoric to disarm your opponents, preferably before you have to duck. Start your speech by sketching out the contentious issue, then venture into the opposite camp and consider their point of view fairly and respectfully. Crossing the battle lines tells your audience that you're listening to them—and that they don't need to throw things to get your attention.  Alas, no tips for navigating those pesky situations where you find yourself on a discussion panel with your enraged ex...
  • Hal Gordon, former speechwriter for the Reagan White House, examines the diplomatic tact of British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald's talk in Houston last week. Writing for PunditWire, Gordon praises Sir Nigel's flurry of engaging facts and the compelling tone with which he conveyed the meat of his message and let the audience know how much it mattered to him.
  • Writers are often tempted by a fragrant, steaming, heaped-up plate of—adjectives. They inject variegated vividness, right? Or maybe they're just plain pests. Arch-wit Alexander McCall Smith, author of the bestselling No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, crusades for concision in the Wall Street Journal. He points out that people don't generally think in adjectives, and argues that "writing which one cannot actually think can very easily look wrong on the page." Even more vitally, adjectives crowd out the reader's own imagination by layering the paint on too thickly. Elizabeth Bishop knew that an artist can create "tiny cows, / two brushstrokes each, but confidently cows"—cutting adjectives lets the scene speak for itself.
  • There's no Oscar for best-punctuated film, but Slate's Nathan Heller might start hassling the Academy to instate one. Looking back at the collected titles of Woody Allen, Heller celebrates the grammatical vigilance of What's Up, Tiger Lily? and Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* / *But Were Afraid To Ask, but is less pleased with the auteur's newer releases. What happens when we get to Everyone Says I Love You, the befuddling Vicky Cristina Barcelona, or Allen's latest You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger? Let's just say the comma goes kaput.

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