Say it loud

We do it for our children at bedtime. We might do it for our colleagues during meetings. We certainly do it for analysts on earnings calls and for assembled crowds at keynotes. But there's one audience -- the most critical audience, arguably -- who we always seem to leave out.

Think: when's the last time you read your own writing out only yourself?

Every actor knows that the only way to fully understand and truly inhabit a message is to speak it aloud – but the footlit stage and the silver screen aren’t the only environments where you’ll see this truism taken to heart. Spend time in any broadcast television newsroom in any market, large or small, across America – and our team can speak from experience on this – and you will notice that, from every workstation, voices are rising: the voices of writers, listening to the phrases and sentences they’ve created before they put them into their anchors’ mouths.

There’s a reason for this, of course: television writing is an aural medium, with stories intended to be told and heard, not read – it’s writing that’s designed explicitly for the ear, not the eye. But there’s a greater lesson to be learned here, one that TV writers (and screenwriters, and playwrights) know well: effective communication rests not only on what you say, but on how what you say sounds.

Consider, for instance, what’s happening right now, as you read these words. Is this a silent process? Presumably yes, in one aspect – we don’t imagine you’re reading out loud. But certainly no, in another aspect – there is a voice speaking the words you’re reading, isn’t there? It’s the voice of your internal reader, the voice that only you can hear, the one inside your head that takes these black shapes on this white page and turns them into the rhythmic cadences of language and invests them with meaning. To say it another way: you’re reading this sentence out loud right now, even though you’re not making a sound.

Recognizing that silent reading isn’t silent at all – recognizing that reading isn’t just visual, but also auditory – allows us to structure all our written communications for maximum impact. This can mean employing flourishes like repetition, assonance and alliteration (as we’ve discussed in the past); it can mean employing a spare and direct writing style; but you can’t employ any of these techniques until you read your own writing out loud.

Try it. Whatever’s next on your writing agenda – an email, a memo, a blog post, whatever it is – before you send it out to your audience, try reading what you’ve written out loud. Listen to how the words fall on your ears; listen to how the words sound in the sequences you’ve structured.

And if you don’t like how they sound, hit the delete key and start rewriting – because your audience will be listening too.