Politically Incorrect: Grammar Mistakes in Public Speaking Will Cost You

How knowledge of grammar (or lack thereof) can affect how you are perceived

Microphone At A Rally CloseupIt comes as no surprise that poor grammar has damaging impacts in the workplace. Multiple surveys and studies, as reported by such sources as Forbes Magazine and Real Business, show that employers and audiences alike respond negatively to grammar mistakes in professional settings. According to a 2013 survey, nearly 60% of Britons not only have a lower opinion of companies that exhibit spelling or grammatical errors on their websites, but actively avoid the services of such companies. The correct use of grammar indicates that an individual is well educated, attentive, and professional. In contrast, poor grammar contributes to the perception that one is careless or unqualified for a professional position.

These principles and consequences apply not only to written language, but to the spoken form as well, particularly in avenues like politics, where public perception is paramount. Susan Adams of Forbes Magazine explains the importance of proper grammar in public speaking:

When you speak, you project your level of intelligence and thoughtfulness. You also demonstrate how organized you are, in your thoughts and in your intentions. If you can get your sentences straight before you say them, you’re promising that you’re more likely to master tasks at work. The other thing eloquence suggests is that you are listening closely to the other person, and you’re serious about what you want to convey to that person. Good grammar and clear sentences suggest respect.

The powerful impact that grammar mistakes can have on a speaker’s credibility can be attributed to what has been dubbed the “halo effect,” as examined by Chandra Clarke of Scribendi.com, a successful online proofreading and editing company. Clarke states that this effect is one by which people view each other in generalized terms (e.g., “good” or “bad,” rather than a mix of qualities), and that the impact of one quality can affect how we perceive a person as a whole. In the world of politics and public speaking, having a reputation for bungled speech and poor grammar usage can influence crucial audiences to believe that you are inattentive and unintelligent.

Grammar mistakes paint an unflattering picture. Those pursuing a career in politics, or any other field that requires generating public support through speaking engagements, would be well advised to brush up on their grammar knowledge before stepping up to any podiums or soap boxes. To make the process of reaching grammatical proficiency a little easier, let us take a look at some easy grammar mistakes to avoid, as extracted from unfortunate addresses by former president George W. Bush.

Grammar Blunder #1: Lack of subject/verb agreement

“Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?”

Grammar Blunder #2: Incorrect pluralization

Childrens do learn!”

Grammar Blunder #3: Lack of subject/verb agreement AND incorrect pluralization (oh dear)

“I hear there’s rumors on the Internets!”

Grammar Blunder #4: Dangling modifiers

“I remember meeting the mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office.”

Grammar Blunder #5: Misused pronouns

“Teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.”

Grammar Blunder #6: Redundancy

“Tribal sovereignty means that, it’s sovereign.”

Grammar Blunder #7: Subject/object/modifier confusion

“She is a West Texas girl, just like me!”

Grammar Blunder #8: Preposition and object confusion

“. . . and you’re working hard to put food on your family . . .”

Grammar Blunder #9: Incorrect article usage

“One of the things I’ve used on the Google . . .”

Grammar Blunder #10: Sentence construction = altered meaning

“I oppose breaching those dams. I know that human beings and fish can coexist peacefully.”

“Our enemies . . . never stop thinking of ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we!”

“Too many OBGYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women across this country.”

Granted, not all slip-ups will be as damning as these, but in any position scrutinized by the public eye, it is better to err on the side of caution. It is a challenge to secure public support, financial contributions, or votes even with perfect public speaking ability; don’t sabotage your chances before your audience has even had the chance to hear your message. Focus on avoiding grammar mistakes. Consider taking the time to reassess your grammar knowledge—it could be as easy as an online course, like the one at GrammarCamp. After all, your public image is not something you can afford to get wrong.

 

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