Guide on the Side - Speaking is from Venus, Writing is from Mars

By Marie Wallace, Published on January 1, 2001

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O'Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries' highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute's programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms "Life in Progress," which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art.  She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her "free" time to various non-profit and civic activities.


We know that women and men communicate differently. But are we aware that speakers and writers differ even more? Speaking and writing are distinctive versions of the same language, unique in their output, syntax and function. Presenters and trainers need to appreciate the differences to know when to speak, to write or to use both in tandem.

Some Differences

Another Difference Illustrated

If I speak the word "hello" to an audience with undulating vocal cadence and ear-centered body language, the audience gets the message that I am asking them to "listen up." By contrast, if I write "hello" on a page without additional explanatory text, readers do not know whether the message is a greeting, commentary, inquiry, attention getting device or even who wrote the message, the intended audience or the context. This shows that spoken language has three vocabularies: gestures, vocalisms and words, making speech very economical and persuasive. It is also why:

Additionally, speakers connect with their audiences via eye contact and physical bearing. This connection is a integral part of spoken communication, providing speakers with immediate feedback to make course corrections or respond to audience queries on the spot. When a speaker connects with an audience both speaker and audience get a jolt of energy.

Writing has a different set of strengths and is often epitomized as the language of information. It depends on choice of words, word order, sentence structures, punctuation, grammar, paragraphs, fonts, format, page layout as well as selection of channel (book, article, memo, minutes, report). It is permanent, detailed, precise and structured for re-use and understanding. Writing transcends time and space. Contracts, wills, legislative and other legal documents are in writing because of these attributes.

What happens when a speech is written in the language of writing?

Why speech is different than writing

When a speaker writes a speech, the thoughts are designed along literary lines into formal sentences and paragraphs using literary parts of speech and constructions. By contrast, dynamic speakers utilize the aspects of verbal communication not available in writing--gestures, vocalisms and audience feedback. Speech is filled with shrugs, postures, finger pointing, sighs, inflections, accents, pauses, alliterations and other sounds for which there are no written equivalents. Compare differences - Guide on the Side - A Communication Skill Suite Speaking, Writing and Graphics.

How to Design (Not Write) a Speech

When and how Venus and Mars are in Harmonic Convergence

The main thing to remember when you design a speech (with or without PowerPoint) or training (in the classroom or at a distance) is that audiences pay attention to people who talk to them much more than people who read to them. (Listen up politicians. This is why most people prefer to listen to political commentators rather than you.) If you aim to persuade or motivate an audience, do it in person in the language of speech. If you strive to share knowledge for posterity, put it in writing in the language of text.