Inclusive Language in Public Speaking: Respecting Diversity

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  • 0:01 What Is Inclusive…
  • 0:52 Slang
  • 1:44 Jargon
  • 2:44 Culture-Specific Language
  • 3:55 Obscenities
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

Speechwriters must consider diversity when writing their speeches. A way to avoid offending people is to use inclusive language, or language that the audience is familiar with and understands.

What Is Inclusive Language, Anyway?

Let's face it; we all do it from time to time. You text your friends and say, 'Hey, guys! Anyone up for bowling tonight?' You certainly did not mean to exclude all of your female friends. But by including only the guys in the wording, it may make the girls feel left out.

This is where inclusive language should be used. It is language that avoids using words and phrases that exclude a group. So, in your text, you could have said, 'Hey, ladies and gentlemen! Would anyone care to go bowling tonight?' But that's a lot of two-fingered typing. Perhaps, 'Hey, let's go bowling tonight!' That is much better. I think you get the idea.

Using inclusive language does a few things:

  • Promotes diversity
  • Shows respect to all audience members
  • Supports a positive tone

But what should you avoid saying?

Slang

When you set out to draft a speech, there are so many things to think about. The content, the facts, the audience, the message; and the list goes on and on.

Consider this: your audience is made up of many different people. They may be of different ages, genders, religions, political opinions, races, and nationalities. So, attention must be paid to the way your speech is worded. The last thing you want to do is offend your audience.

Let's start with slang. This is verbiage used by a particular group of people. For example, a teenager may say, 'You are getting all emo on me.' To the youngster, this means, 'creating drama.' To an older person, it makes no sense.

The same goes for slang within a culture. Americans know exactly what 'supersize' means. It means 'upgrading my meal to include a large fries and soda.' In other cultures, this term may not mean a thing.

Jargon

Jargon is like slang but includes language that is used by a group that is also difficult to understand, like doctors, lawyers, and law enforcement. If you were speaking to a group of kids about careers in business, you might want to avoid 'using due diligence in decision making,' when you can simply say, 'doing the research before making a decision.' The kids may relate better to the latter.

The same applies to the use of jargon that only people within an industry or organization know. Imagine yourself as an audience member at a speech directed towards members of the police department. You may hear Code 8, Code 11, and FTP. My head is already spinning. These are terms most people outside of law enforcement are not familiar with. Using work-related lingo is a surefire way to lose the audience.

By the way, Code 8 means 'officer needs help immediately,' Code 11 means 'officer is at the scene,' and FTP means 'failure to pay a ticket.'

Culture-Specific Language

Just like slang and jargon, culture-specific language may also exclude people. This means word and phrase choices that are only understood by a single culture.

Take idioms. These are expressions that mean something other than their literal meaning. While many languages use them, the idiom itself may be different. For example, if you were speaking to a group of children from China on a stormy day, saying 'It's raining cats and dogs,' may conjure up images of house pets falling from the sky. Frightening!

A speaker from Armenia, angered by a heckler in the audience, may say, 'Stop ironing my head!' What? Ironing what? Well, what the speaker really means is, 'Stop annoying me!' You get the idea.

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