Simple is good

Thursday, February 07, 2019
Let's just say my grades as an undergrad were less than stellar. When I enrolled again after having dropped out for a few semesters, I was required to take Spanish III. I hadn't taken Spanish II in more than a year, and I wasn't looking forward to trying to catch up with my more-fluent classmates.

Our biggest assignment was to present a 5-minute speech in Spanish. The goal was to communicate effectively, which meant keeping it simple enough for everyone to understand. I chose to do a speech on Pablo Picasso, and used hand gestures and other nonverbal communication to help explain my words.

Effective communication means the message sent is the message received. This is a problem for me when I write fiction. My critique group has been incredibly helpful by pointing out my scenes that don't work. I confuse readers with my habit of jumping around in different character's heads, and skip over details that help convey the message.

Nonfiction, on the other hand, is my strength. My work in journalism and public relations helped sharpen my skills. I worked as a typesetter at a weekly newspaper before I began writing articles. One of the best lessons for journalists is learning how to edit unnecessary information to clarify the message. And I probably edited more than a thousand press releases before I was able to apply those skills as a writer. It paid off.

It's amazing how much information we don't need. Getting rid of the excess made the important information stand out. "Keep it simple" was the idea I kept in mind while striking through line after line of copy that didn't do anything except muddy the message. And that's the idea I also kept in mind while working on my speech for Spanish III.

My speech was simple and easy to follow. I spoke slowly and clearly. My hand gestures helped the audience understand some of the words they may not have been familiar with. When I finished, I believe everyone in the room understood what I had said.

My straight-"A"-student friend who sat next to me did her speech on bullfighting. At least I think that's what it was. Her speech was longer and used unfamiliar language that I didn't always understand. And, from the looks of the people around me, they didn't understand either. Her grasp of Spanish was the highest in the class, but instead of adapting to the audience to make it clear to us, she sent a message that had little meaning because we didn't know a lot of the words she used.

This was the only time I earned a higher grade than my friend. If the message sent isn't the message received, then the communication has failed, just like I did on the midterm exam (but I passed the class, thanks to my speech!)

Mary Horner received the Writing Certificate from UM-St. Louis, where she also took Spanish III. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community College, and writes articles and press releases for various clients.


Margo Dill said...

This is a great example of having to know your audience. To me, it is one of the number one rules of writing. :) Thank you for this post to remind us and I'm glad that you passed the course!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--Your example of how you conveyed a clear message was clear. Margo's right: we need this reminder now and then.

Nicole Pyles said...

Good for you for having the guts to take spanish 3 when you had a year off! I remember I had a year break and started taking french instead. I recall having to make a speech too in french 2 about an object or something. :) Anyways, you make such a good point! I think the stories that are most successful to me are the ones that are far simpler in delivery. It's something I try to keep in mind as I write.

Mary Horner said...

Thanks Margo, knowing your audience is something I try to remember, but I'm not always successful. And I am glad I passed the course, too!

Sioux, most of my blog posts are about something I need help with, so while I need to keep it in mind, I'm glad it spoke to others as well.

Nicole, I was terrified of that class, but all I needed was a C to pass and I talked to the instructor before and she helped guide me to some other resources, and it worked out. Although I do think French is such a beautiful language!

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