Editing for Speakers—Part I

Hello. I’m Camille DeSalme, freelance copy editor. Recently, I started to learn and practice public speaking. This got me wondering how editing applies to speeches. Copyediting is for the written word, right? Yes! But how does it apply to speakers? I’ll talk a bit about that.

Editing involves more than just spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Editors also address clarity, consistency, and a smooth flow of ideas, which are vital for outstanding speaking and writing. But I’ll stick to spelling, punctuation, and grammar today—and how they can help you show your unique self, while keeping egg off your face.

The importance of grammar—correct grammar—is obvious: it helps you put your best face forward when you speak. Poor grammar can maul clarity; an editor can identify murky parts of your speech.

How you put words together is called syntax. Syntax falls under the umbrella of grammar. You know the words you choose and the way you put them together can make a huge difference in your speeches. I encourage you to pay attention to the little words, as well as the big ones. When I introduced myself at the beginning of this blog, I said “Camille DeSalme, freelance copy editor.” Saying it that way, instead of “a freelance copy editor,” makes me feel like a superhero. “Camille DeSalme, Freelance Copy Editor”! I just need the mask and the cape . . . and the superpowers.

Grammar includes idioms—for example, “I’m fixinta go to the store.” When it’s appropriate to speak or write that way, go ahead and use idioms; that’s like adding spices to your cooking. In informal communications, I say and write “y’all”—I’m a Southerner, and that’s how I talk. Your communication style is one of the things that sets you apart from others, therefore, it’s vital that you—not your editor—come across in your writing and speaking. As an editor I support distinctive style and the use of idioms.

Another thing about editing the spoken word: phrasing that insults or excludes can be subtle—editors point out that phrasing, in case insult or exclusion is not what you’re going for.

Okay, it’s a given that grammar is crucial. But who gives a hoot about spelling and punctuation when you’re a speaker? No one can see those things . . . unless you decide to post your speech online. And you may not only be speakers—to support your speaking career, you may have written books, websites, and marketing materials. Errors in all these are common—reduce them as much as you can, so whatever the medium, others see the best possible representation of you and your business.

Just as you would read a speech aloud to hear how it sounds, read your online and printed materials aloud, too. Reading them carefully is a fine way to find awkward phrasing, missing words, and typos. Read them to a friend after asking them to stop you immediately if something isn’t clear. Talk out any muddy parts with them until you see the light dawn on their face, then use that clearer phrasing.

We probably all know this by now, but don’t rely only on a spell checker (helpful as they can be) or even on reading the material aloud. If you can, have an editor read your materials.

Even editors need editors! And we use them.

For consistency across all your written material, pick one dictionary to use, like Merriam-Webster. Be sure to look up words which might be hyphenated or closed-compounds. A closed compound is two words stuck together, no space, no hyphen, like the word “handout.” When I edit, I see a lot of mistakes in compound words. Also check spelling, punctuation, and capitalization of businesses listed in your marketing material, like companies in your client list. I check the client’s business website or LinkedIn page to see how they style the name. Sometimes it’s in the signature block in their e-mail.

An entire series of speeches could be written about punctuation—I plan to not do that! I’ll just point you to a couple of websites I’ve found extremely helpful:

Guide to Grammar and Writing Punctuation is in the “Word & Sentence Level” drop-down list.


Now you know why a speaker might use a copy editor. And you know why spelling, punctuation, and grammar are valuable for speakers. I encourage you to use online resources and copy editors so you and your business display your distinctive style without the verbal equivalent of spinach in your teeth.