Write your speech like Hemingway. Here’s how – and why.

Photograph of Ernest HemingwayWhat skills could you transfer to your public speaking, from other disciplines?

For instance, in my work as a learning designer, I’ve been heavily influenced by experts like Cathy Moore. While her advice is aimed at designers of e-learning, you might be surprised how much of it could also apply to your next talk or presentation.

Like to see an example? Try Cathy’s post called How to get everyone to write like Ernest Hemingway. (It’s under 800 words, so it’s only about a 3-minute read.)


What’s that for?

You could use that post to help with your speechwriting (or with writing slides or speaker notes). That’s because it shows how you can take these 2 steps:

  • Use simple tips to make your writing more readable (or conversational).
  • Easily measure how readable your writing is (with Microsoft Word).

In the rest of this post, you’ll find details of those 2 steps, and more:


Why write like Hemingway?Scroll to Contents ↑

Those 2 steps will make your content more popular

Cathy claims those 2 steps will make your content more popular. Maybe you find that hard to believe.

Well, to support her case, she ranks the readability scores for about a dozen newspapers and magazines.

The result? Popular ones like “Family Handyman” and “Better Homes and Gardens” get top scores.

To paraphrase Cathy:

“I included [those 2 magazines] because they cover
a lot of the same territory that [speakers do]
– they motivate you to make a change
and tell you how to do it.”
Cathy Moore


4 writing tipsScroll to Contents ↑

Writing like Hemingway isn’t as hard as you might think. You can take simple steps, like these 4 tips that Cathy shares:

  • Use short sentences and short words.
  • Say “you” and “we”.
  • Write active sentences (avoiding forms of the verb “to be” – like “is”).
  • Turn tacked-on clauses (like “blah blah, which…” or “blah blah, because…”) into separate sentences.


How could Word help?Scroll to Contents ↑

Cathy also explains how you can make Microsoft Word show your document’s readability score. But you might wonder how that can help, when you most likely want to use PowerPoint – not Word.

Well, you could use either of these 2 workflows to write your speaker notes:


How to tweak WordScroll to Contents ↑

At first, Word’s option to show your document’s readability score is turned off. But you can turn it on: Click File, Options, Proofing, then tick Show readability statistics.

If your version of Word’s like mine though, that checkbox might be greyed out until you tick Mark grammar errors as you type.

But, after you tick Show readability statistics, I strongly recommend you then clear the tick from Mark grammar errors as you type.

That’s because Word’s grammar checker’s really awful! (It often suggests you change correct grammar – to make it incorrect!)


Getting the right statsScroll to Contents ↑

Now you’ve tweaked Word, you’ll see readability stats when you complete a spelling-check. (To start a spelling-check, you either click Review and then Check Document, or press F7.)

Cathy recommends you use the Flesch Reading Ease – and ignore the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level:

The higher the Ease score the better, as that shows your talk’s more conversational. Cathy suggests aiming for a score in the 60s.

She goes on to say:

“…changing your style to get a higher score
can also have a profound effect on how
[your audience] feels about you”
Cathy Moore

I say:

Long live that feeling!


Have your sayScroll to Contents ↑

So there you have it. You’ve seen:

What do you think? For instance, how applicable do you think this is to public speaking?

Let me know your views in the comments.


Also see…Scroll to Contents ↑


2 thoughts on “Write your speech like Hemingway. Here’s how – and why.

    • Happy New Year to you too! Thanks so much for your comment Carl.

      Cathy Moore’s a real hero of mine. She sets things out so succinctly, and so convincingly!

      If you’re interested, do click through to my post about making a talk more conversational (if you’ve not read it). It shares other techniques along these lines (like using contractions, not fretting about using a few filler words, and softening the use of grammar).

      (That post uses a 3-part structure, where the name of each part starts with the same letter and consists of just 3 syllables: “Have a chat; Help them think; Hear their thoughts.” So I was pleased with how the structure polished up over time!)


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