The Art of Plain Talk

Way back when I was a young pastor, I came across a book called “The Art of Plain Talk” by Rudolph Flesch. You might recognize the name Flesch from hearing of the Flesch Kincaid scale for reading levels that is used by speakers, copywriters and others to check the level of their communications. It’s also not a bad thing for preachers to use as well.

I found this book by Rudolph Flesch in a library somewhere. In fact, in my mind, I found a discarded copy, but I don’t have it on me now. It highlighted some of the principles of just talking plainly and clearly.

I did come across another book called “The Power of Simplicity” by Jack Trout where he talks about clear writing. These obviously apply as well to clear speaking. Things like keeping sentences short, picking the simple word over the complex word, choosing the familiar word, avoiding unnecessary words, putting action in your verbs.

He also suggests writing like you talk, use terms your readers, or in this case your listeners, can picture, tie in with your reader’s experience, make full use of variety, and write to express, not to impress. I thought that that was a pretty good list and it’s for writing, but it works very well for speaking as well.

Another note I found in my files is from an old leadership journal where whoever was writing the article said, “We have to be as clear as M.U.D. Memorable. Understandable. Doable. Can your people remember something? Can they do it?” I thought that was excellent, especially for us preachers.

I’ve noticed that for myself and others, it’s really easy to tell people what to do, but we don’t always do so well telling them how to do it and something they can actually act on. We can tell them what to do without equipping them to do it, and we’d kind of leave them in this place of guilt. It’s important to speak really clearly, compellingly and making it make sense.

I came across this excellent little summary of the topic from a preaching book, I think Biblical Preaching. This book takes an excerpt from an article called, “Advice to Young Preachers.” It says, “In promulgating your esoteric cogitations, or articulating your superficial sentimentalities and amicable, philosophical or psychological observations, beware of platitudinous ponderosity. Let your conversational communications possess a clarified conciseness, a compact comprehensibleness, coalescent consistency, and a concatenated cogency. Eschew conglomerations of flatulent garrulity, jejune babblement and asinine affectations. Let your extemporaneous discantings and unpremeditated expetiations have intelligibility and veracious vivacity, without rhodomontade or thrasonical bombast. In other words, talk plainly, briefly and don’t use big words.”

In regards to speaking clearly and plainly, there are so many tools now. You could actually take a recording of your sermon, get it transcribed for you at very little cost online through AI, then upload that transcription to a Flesch Kincaid tool, which would show you the reading level you’re actually at.

A common reading and speaking level to shoot for is grade seven. If you start climbing up in a grade nine, 10, 11, or 12, you’re going to be missing a certain number of people, so we shoot for a grade seven level.

I actually think I might do this with one of my recent messages and see how it lands. I’m a little concerned about that, although I’m getting better at it than I was in the past. Anytime we have to use a big word, we make sure we explain what those words mean. Sometimes theologically we do need to use big words that are important words because they’re precise words, but they must be explained well. The first time I use it, they will learn about it.

So there you have it. I encourage you to hunt down a copy of Rudolph Flesch’s, “The Art of Plain Talk” and utilize some of these tools to help you navigate speaking plainly and clearly.

Hope you’re having a great day. God bless and press on.

1 thought on “The Art of Plain Talk”

Leave a Comment