How to speak more clearly, like a Spartan

danny riley public speaking coach

Danny Riley
5 min read

What you’ll learn:

  • Start with a point, then sharpen it.
  • Speak more clearly by knowing your content.
  • The power of memorability.
greek statue of a speaker

Why you need to speak more clearly.

If you want people to listen intently rather than drift off, you must learn to speak more clearly.

In the Ancient City of Sparta, people didn’t feel the need to use lengthly monologues to get their point across. Say what you mean and speak it clearly was the rule.

When Philip of Macedon was conquering all of Greece and Asia he sent an emissary to Sparta. The emissary gave a letter to the Spartan king that read something along the lines of:

“I now rule most of Greece and soon I will march to Sparta. If you fall I will enslave your people and burn your homeland to the ground. Sparta will never rise again.”

The Spartans replied with one word:


The Spartans felt no need to meander with wordplay, and neither should you.

Start with a point, then sharpen it.

When a writer sits down to write, they sharpen their pencil. Even if they don’t use pencils, they will have some form of routine of discovering the point they are trying to make before they make it.

Your point is perhaps the most important first step of creating a persuasive argument. Nobody wants to hear someone trying to find a point as they speak. It’s tiresome.

Remember this: your point is a contention that can be argued, proven, and defended with reasoning, data, or evidence. Your point is not the data or evidence itself, it is the planet around which all the other moons orbit.

Our point should shoot all the way through your talk and cut to the very core of the argument you are making or countering. A debate about climate change, for instance, would be pretty pointless if everyone’s point was that climate change is real, or climate change needs to be reversed.

The key point about climate change however might be that it is the individual’s responsibility to take care of the planet rather than relying on governments or businesses.

This would then be backed up with data from studies about households that consciously use green energy compared with those that unconsciously do not.

Speak more clearly by knowing your point.

You must know your point before you begin, because it is the hinge upon which everything else hangs.

You require three main elements to make a point successfully. You must believe the point you are making with your heart and soul. If you want to test this Joel Schwartzberg suggests you should say the words “I Believe that” in front of your point. If it moves you inside then you know you have a strong argument.

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

Notice in this quote from Marilyn Monroe how her belief is that everything happens for a reason. Then Marilyn goes on to use topics that back up her argument in a persuasive way.

When you’ve made your point it’s then time to bring in your evidence. If your point is one that people are already familiar with you will need to come at it from a fresh angle.

Restating the obvious for your own ego satisfaction will not satisfy the audience. When I was in a debate contest a few years ago I was arguing the point that financial incentives have a negative impact on performance in the long-term.

Rather than using the same old quotes from history, I decided to use quotes from hip-hop stars such as the Notorious B.I.G. who said: “Mo Money, Mo Problems”. You can’t speak more clearly than that! That one quote was remembered by the audience who voted unanimously that my team were more persuasive.

When we asked them later why they voted for us, they could hardly remember any of the arguments we made, but they all remembered that quote.

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Speak more clearly, like a Spartan:

Finally I want to come back to the point I outlined at the beginning about the Spartans. Spartan in modern parlance actually means something along the lines of minimalist.

Recently, in Britain, we’ve had a number of debates and arguments spanning years relating to Brexit.

When the debates were raging it was quite obvious to me which side was going to win. On the Remain side there were lengthily arguments and deep statistical evidence showing how doom would befall us all if we dared to leave the E.U.

On the Leave side, however, they opted for catchy slogans such as: “Take back control” and later “Get Brexit Done”.

The leavers didn’t just use these slogans on posters and in text. They would consistently weave them into conversations, into political debates, into television interviews.

These small segments would be embedding into the subconscious minds of listeners because they were memorable, sticky, and polarising.

In Hamlet, Will Shakespeare wrote that “brevity is the soul of wit”. Which is ironic, since he was known for overemphasising his points throughout his work using lengthily monologues. But I’m sure he expected us to do as he said, not as he did.

So, let’s do that. Start with your point and whether you’re writing an email, discussing restaurant options with your partner, or delivering a keynote speech on remote working, remember to get to the point, and speak clearly.

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