Public Speaking

To book me for a speaking engagement, or to discuss rates and dates, email or call (213) 270-1986 (Los Angeles). Be sure to read about my recent speaking engagements and event-organizer testimonials.

I love the energy and enthusiasm I get back from audiences all over the country. Using what I know about writing, slang, new words, dialects, media, dictionaries, public radio, the history of language, and more, I’ve given speeches to journalists in New York City, to literacy campaign supporters in Indianapolis, to public media fundraisers in La Jolla, to librarians in the countryside of Vermont, to dictionary editors in Chicago, and to many other gatherings.

Each time, it’s a chance to meet some of the hundreds of thousands of listeners from across the country who listen to my radio show, A Way with Words, on their local NPR station: to hear their stories, to learn from them, and then to give them my best ideas in return. And, of course, it’s a chance to have some laughs and make new friends.

As keynote speaker, event host, master of ceremonies, and workshop facilitator, I speak at public and private events to groups of all sizes and professions. I’m also happy to be an event-planner’s last-minute fill-in speaker when someone else simply cannot go on but the show simply must. That’s me: a one-man speakers’ bureau on short notice. Emergency speeches to the rescue!

My presentations are upbeat and irreverent and interwoven with surprising tidbits and useful takeaways, often on the topics below. Of course, if you’ve got something special in mind, we’ll work together to make sure you’re happy and I tailor my comments and stories to suit audiences and situations. I also enjoy Q&A sessions — even when we don’t plan them, they often spring up, anyway. Curiosity will out!

I sometimes appear alongside my lovely and brainy radio co-host Martha Barnette, so if you’d like to double your fun, just ask us!

You can get photos of me here to use in your publicity materials, programs, schedules, website, etc. My current bio is always the one linked from the top of the site.

Some Favorite Topics

  • Slang Has Been Handed a Bum Rap and I’m Here to Bail it Out: a lively defense of slang as an important part of English.
  • Teen Slang: It’s Awesome
  • Bringing Joy Back to Corporate Communications: How to bring the joy of writing creatively into any workplace.
  • What’s New in English?: The new words of the last 12 months, plus a look at what else is happening in the way we speak.
  • Slang for Fiction-Writers: How to get slang — even historical slang — right in fiction.
  • Taboo Language: Where it comes from, where it’s going, and why we need it.
  • The American Language: A weird history about why Americans can sound so different from each other and the rest of the English-speaking world.
  • Changing the Public Conversation About Language: There’s more to it than peeving.
  • The Enduring Value of Books: Why we’re reading more, why we’re smarter than ever, and why reading is thriving in the digital era.
  • Rescued by Books: My personal story.
  • Teaching The Young to be Amazing Writers: Three easy steps turn bored kids into lifelong learners.
  • Media Savviness: what you need to know to be ready to deal with the media, even if it’s not your job.

A Selection of Public Speeches and Appearances

    Also see radio and television appearances on the “press” page.


    • “A Way with Language,” New San Diego Central Library, May 17, 2014. Live presentations with my co-host, Martha Barnette, to a standing-room-only crowd.

    • “What’s New in Slang?” LIFE at MiraCosta College, Oceanside, CA. May 9th, 2014. 2:30 p.m.

    • Live reading on stage in pajamas, with my co-host Martha Barnette, as part of a benefit for Moxie Theater. Bedtime with MOXIE. March 22, 2014. 8 p.m.

    Friends of the Chula Vista Library. Sunday, January 26, 2014. 2 p.m. Civic Center library auditorium, 365 F St. Chula Vista, CA. Spoke on books, libraries, and reading in my life, and in my son’s life.

    • Host and emcee of PechaKucha Night San Diego V.18 at Stone Brewing. December 2, 2013.

    San Diego Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication: “Turning Office Writing into a Pleasure.” Elijah’s, 8861 Villa La Jolla Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037. 5:30 p.m. June 11, 2013

    • Martha and I performed comic hijinks with Sidestage Improv to benefit Wayword, Inc., the nonprofit that produces A Way with Words. June 15, 2013, Swedenborg Hall, San Diego. More information.

    • Martha Barnette and I made our first-ever appearance in Dallas. This event benefited the Aberg Literacy Center, and was sponsored in part by KERA 90.1 and our friends at The Ken Blanchard Companies. Special guests included Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings. May 16, 2013.

    • An in-person Q&A with Jeff Whittington and KERA-FM 90.1 special guests. Dallas, Texas. May 15, 2013.

    • “A Lively Defense of Slang,” hosted by Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP and co-sponsored by the Brown Club of San Diego, Columbia Alumni Association of San Diego, Harvard Club of San Diego, MIT Club of San Diego, and the Princeton Club of San Diego. April 25, 2013.

    • Lecture on slang, Oceanside Public Library. March 16, 2013.

    • Celebrity speller and special guest at the San Diego Literacy Council annual spelling bee. February 21, 2013.

    • Host and emcee of PechaKucha Night San Diego V.17 for the San Diego Architectural Foundation. February 20, 2013.

    • Public lecture on slang at the Escondido Public Library. February 16, 2013.

    • Along with my radio partner Martha Barnette, keynote speaker at the UC San Diego 2013 Information Theory and Applications Workshop, February 13, 2013.

    • With my radio partner Martha Barnette, an hour-long discussion of how the American English language has changed in the last three centuries at the San Diego Museum of Art in conjunction with the museum’s special exhibition, Behold, America!, November 12, 2012.

    • My radio partner Martha Barnette entertained a lively and fun crowd at a KPBS Producer’s Club event. October 12, 2012.

    • Host/emcee for “Blueprint,” a special event co-hosted by San Diego Writers, Ink, and the Mingei International Museum in San Diego. September 28, 2012.

    • Spoke on teen slang. Escondido Rotary, Club at the California Center for the Arts. Escondido, California. 12 p.m. September 25, 2012:

    • Keynote speaker and workshop leader with my co-host Martha Barnette. Writers’ Forum, Intuit. Mountain View, California. September 12, 2012.

    • Spoke on slang and chat language to a Juvenile Court and Community Schools class. Sports Academy at the Jackie Robinson YMCA, San Diego, California. July 31, 2012.

    • Presented on slang to two classes at UMOJA #1 and #2, Juvenile Court and Community Schools which are attended by kids who are having problems at regular schools. Chula Vista, California. June 28, 2012.

    • Private dinner associated with a charity auction. June, 24, 2012.

    Featured lunchtime speaker at the monthly meeting of the Kiwanis Club of San Diego. San Diego. May 22, 2012.

    • Gave a talk at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of California, San Diego, called “Language Encounters: People Who Speak Differently.” It covered aspects of American dialects, language change, what happens when we meet people who speak differently than we do, and some aspects of what the radio show is about and what it’s trying to accomplish. Forty-five-minute lecture and an hour of Q&A. May 14, 2012.

    • Gave a humorous and “blue” talk about our uncomfortable relationship with taboo language at TEDxSDSU, a local version of the national TED talks. TEDxSDSU presenters and performers were asked to answer the question, “What Have You Discovered?” Video to come. May 6, 2012.

    • Read a bit of my unpublished fiction at Vermin on the Mount (Facebook page), a reading series that alternates between Los Angeles and San Diego. May 5, 2012.

    • A series of classroom lectures and a public talk at the State University of New York at Potsdam, April 25-26, 2012.

    • Lectured about the various senses and parts of speech of the word “dope,” how their meanings have changed over time, and why dictionaries often offer only guesswork for etymologies. ANTH 161/LNGS 111 Origin of Language class taught by Dr. Karen Johnson-Weiner, Professor of Linguistic Anthropology.
    • Lectured about Arturo Alfandari, his invented language Neo, and the linguistic impulse to make new words, to the ANTH 195 Inventing a Language class taught by Dr. Karen Johnson-Weiner, Professor of Linguistic Anthropology.
    • Lectured about implicit or explicit authorization of others to use racially or sexually offensive words. For the COMM 333 Interracial Communication class taught by Dr. John Youngblood, Associate Professor.
    • Gave a general talk about writing well and took language questions for the COMP 305 Editing and Revising class taught by Emma V. Levitt, Associate Professor, English & Communication.
    • As part of the Lougheed-Kofoed Festival of the Arts, on the evening of Thursday, April 26, I gave a public talk in the Dunn Theater about the language life, led by what I’d learned about the students and folks in North Country over the last few days. After a 40-minute talk, I took questions for 80 minutes.

    • Judge and awards presenter for the Henrietta Lacks Project Essay Contest, sponsored by the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology, San Diego. April 4, 2012.

    • Guest speaker at the Women’s Fellowship at San Rafael Catholic Church, San Diego, California. Spoke about leading a Reading Life. March 19, 2012.

    • Celebrity expert speller and award-presenter alongside my radio partner Martha Barnette at this annual fundraising event which raises funds to support literacy throughout San Diego County. San Diego Council on Literacy Adult Spelling Bee. February 23, 2012.

    • Guest speaker at TEDxAmericasFinestCity Salon. February 18, 2012.

    • Guest speaker at the meeting of the Linguistics Student Association at San Diego State University. “What A Bridge Sounds Like,” a discussion of how to bring complicated linguistic information to the general public. February 3, 2012.

    San Diego Christian College Honors Forum. “Speaking Differently,” a wide-ranging 90-minute look at the ways we inappropriately judge other people by the way they speak. January 30, 2012.

    • Gave a paper before the American Dialect Society January 6, 2012, in Portland, Oregon, about how A Way with Words uses the Dictionary of American Regional English to help inform listeners to the program and to accomplish the educational mission of the show’s producing nonprofit, Wayword, Inc.

    • Co-host of the Words Alive! Annual Authors’ Luncheon with my radio partner Martha Barnette. The benefit and fundraiser grossed more than $90,000. November 1, 2011. The organizer of the event gave this testimonial: “Words Alive could not have chosen a more perfect team in Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett to emcee our 2011 Annual Authors’ Luncheon. Held every year as the centerpiece event of our organization, the luncheon celebrates literacy, Words Alive’s role in the community and its supporters. Few speakers have been able to connect their message to Words Alive’s audience in a more passionate, impactful way as Martha and Grant. We’re truly grateful for their participation – and are convinced that their participation played a significant role in making the event a major success!”

    • Emcee of the San Diego Architectural Foundation 2011 Orchids & Onions, an annual architectural awards ceremony. Riviera Magazine wrote that I “kept things moving along in an articulate and amusing fashion.” My performance also earned a compliment on Twitter from a local journalist, “@GrantBarrett killin it as MC,” and in print from a second journalist who also appreciated my humor: “His joke set the tone for the ceremony, which both poked fun at and praised local pieces of architecture.” October 27, 2011.

    • Presenter at PechaKucha #12, hosted by the San Diego Architectural Foundation. July 20, 2011.

    • Guest speaker, Chalice Unitarian Universalist Congregation, a church in Escondido, California. “Rescued By Books.” July 17, 2011.

    • Workshop lecturer, Web 2.0 Tools for Journalists Workshop at the Knight Digital Media Center, Berkeley, California. “The Teeth on the Gears of Your Engagement Machine.” June 13, 2011

    • Keynote speaker, 17th Annual San Diego Book & Writing Awards. “Giving Back to Those Coming Up Behind.” In their event summary, they said I “delivered a keynote address that delighted the audience of writers and wordsmiths.” June 11, 2011.

    • Led a 90-minute audio conference / webinar about neologisms for paying attendees on behalf of Copyediting, a trade journal published by McMurry, Inc. “All About New Words.” May 24, 2011.

    • Led a 90-minute audio conference / webinar about dictionaries for paying attendees on behalf of Copyediting, a trade journal published by McMurry, Inc. “All About Dictionaries.” May 19, 2011.

    • Presenter at TEDxAFC conference, San Diego, California. “Everybody Should Talk Like This.” May 10, 2011

    • Awards-presenter at the San Diego Workforce Partnership Recognition Breakfast. May 6, 2011.

    • Presenter at the regular senior citizen speech series at the Fleet Science Center, San Diego. “Pushing the Envelope: Eggheads Are Yucking Up the Language.” March 7, 2011.

    • Celebrity designated speller alongside my radio partner Martha Barnette. San Diego Council on Literacy Adult Spelling Bee. February 24, 2011.

    • Lunchtime Presenter for McPherson Public Media Co-op conference at the Hilton La Jolla at Torrey Pines, La Jolla, California. “New Non-profit Journalism Sites Mean New Competition.” January 20-21, 2011.

    • “Twitter 2.0: Advanced Social Media for Journalists,” a panel held by the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. November 13, 2010.

    • Presentation on my career choices to students at Juvenile Court and Community Schools, which are attended by kids who are having problems at regular schools. South Bay Tech, National City, California. September 23, 2010.

    • Special celebrity speaker alongside Martha Barnette at the San Diego Foundation’s 35th anniversary celebration and gala, including celebration of San Diego Symphony’s 100th anniversary and the San Diego Women’s Foundation’s 10th anniversary. Attended by 1700 people. July 11, 2010.

    • A special class on the origins of cheese names for Murray’s Cheese, a famous specialty cheese shop in New York City. January 23, 2009.

    • Presenter at Readex Digital Institute, a conference for librarians. “Research Techniques in Digital Texts: Beyond ‘Nifty’ and on to ‘Useful.'” Chester, Vermont. October 7-10, 2008.

    • Co-emcee for the finals at the 31st Annual American Crossword Tournament in Brooklyn, New York. This is the big event organized by NPR Puzzlemaster Will Shortz. Crossword Tournament: The Final Countdown, New York Press. March 28, 2008.

    • “Generation Text: The Kids Are Alright,” a presentation on behalf of Sony Electronics in New York City. September 19, 2007.