We know that the greatest assembly of words in the world does not matter much if it does not register with the audience, if it is not meaningful to them. But what of the words and the sentences themselves? Does it matter how many "difficult" words you use, how long your sentences are, and so on? Words matter of course, but it is the message, the structure, the delivery, the story, the connection, etc. that matter more (usually). Still, Seattle PI has an interesting post comparing the recent keynotes by Steve Jobs at Macworld and Bill Gates (and Michael Dell) at CES using an analysis of their respective keynote transcripts.
The results are not particularly surprising, though frankly they are a bit meaningless. It's fun to look at the results (man, Gates sure did say "Windows" and "Vista" a lot, and Jobs sure said "iPhone" and "Phone" often...hardly surprising since that was the focus of the keynote). If you look at the average words per sentence, lexical density, number of words with three or more syllables, etc. then it appears Steve Jobs had a much simpler talk. So Jobs' popular presentation was so interesting, memorable, enjoyable, etc. because the language he used was relatively simple? Is there a correlation between simple, easy-to-understand language and impact on an audience? Most communication experts say to keep the language as simple as possible (but not too simple). Here are a few quotes on simplicity with regards to writing or speaking (go here for more):
"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do." — Thomas Jefferson
"The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words." — Hippocrates
"The trouble with so many of us is that we underestimate the power of simplicity." — Robert Stuberg
"Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind." — Cicero
"Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage-to move in the opposite direction." — Albert Einstein
However, I can think of at least one popular speech that was easy to understand by a mass audience — it even moved a nation — but that is "more difficult" than the presentations by Jobs and Gates (and Dell) if one analyzed only the written transcripts. Obviously this is a long-winded way of me reminding you that today is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr., the man behind one of the greatest speeches in U.S. history, "I Have a Dream." If you just read the transcript of Dr. King's speech you may be moved or you may not, but I don't know how anyone can watch the entire speech on video and not be absolutely blown away. It is indeed the meaning of the words and the importance of the content, but it is the power of the conviction and the sincerity of the delivery and the amazing connection Dr. King made with the people that makes this a legendary speech.
I hope you can take a few moments today and watch this video of the "I Have a Dream" (March on Washington) speech from 1963. The video is 17-minutes long. If you are short on time, please at least watch the last three minutes. Amazing.