Presentation Feature: Formality/register and choice of wording

What is it?

The presenter’s choice of appropriate spoken language. While an academic presentation is still fairly formal in style and register, spoken academic English is much less formal than written academic English.

Why is it important?

A presenter needs to connect with their audience more directly than they would as the author of a paper on the same topic. Written academic language has a formality that particularly stylized and unnatural to most speakers of English. It is a style that does not really exist outside the limited realm of academic papers and theses. It would be very unnatural for someone to speak using that language, and a presenter needs to be natural in order to make that connection with their audience. They, therefore, need to use an appropriately natural form of language to communicate with them. However, academic presenters also need to retain their credentials as credible academics, and experts in their field, so they can’t ‘dumb down’ the content or avoid using language that is important to maintain that credibility within their field.

How is it done?

There are a number of tips learners of English are often given for making writing more academic. Reversing these can help with making the spoken language less formal. Probably the most important is to make the presentation more personal by addressing the audience as ‘you’ and talking about the research in the first person. By talking directly to the audience as ‘you’, the presenters are highlighting that there is a connection between the audience and themselves. It engages the audience by including them in the presentation. Good presenters will also ask questions of the audience, rather than phrasing the question as a statement, as academic writers do. Rhetorical questions again involve the audience in the presentation by encouraging them to consider for themselves the issues that the presenter is addressing, or by allowing them to relate the presenter’s experience to their own. A further strategy, is for presenters to use contractions and less formal words, like phrasal verbs, which are often edited out of academic writing. It would sound very unnatural for a speaker to pronounce each word, rather than use a contraction. Similarly, while presenters do at times use more formal language in order to retain precise meaning, they also use ‘every day’ spoken language that would sound too informal in a written academic paper.

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