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I often hear the phrase 'speak to' used as a verb. For example, "This event speaks to the need for good communication" or "Samantha, can you please speak to these dot points?"

It seems appropriate for a casual or colloquial scenario. The term 'address' can also be used but I feel this often implies the original material was a problem or issue. Whereas, 'Speaks to' can be used to offer a reflection or explanation of the original material.

Is there a more formal or professional verb that could also be used in this instance?

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  • Explain or explains ? – Nagarajan Shanmuganathan Apr 15 '16 at 8:21
  • My immediate interpretation of this event speaks to the need… was this event is evidence for the need – Jacinto Apr 15 '16 at 9:08
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This event addresses the need for good communication.

This event focuses on the need for good communication.

Samantha, can you respond to these dot points?

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I believe the answer to be "no". I do not think there is a "more formal or professional verb" that you might use, except possibly to address. Indeed I fail to see what is not formal or professional about speak to used in this way.

It is recognised in the OED as sense 5, of the second meaning of speak meaning to address words or discourse, as opposed to uttering or pronouncing words.

As you will see its first reference is from 1610.

  1. To treat of or deal with, to discuss or comment on, (a subject) in speech or writing.

1610 J. Dove Advt. Seminaries 42, I desire them therefore..to speake to these foure points.

1637 P. Heylyn Briefe Answer Burton 78 For your charges,..I meane to take them..in order, and speake as briefely to them, as you would desire.

1662 E. Stillingfleet Origines Sacræ ii. vi. §4 Though it be a subject little spoken to either by Jewish or Christian Writers.

1706 G. Stanhope Paraphr. Epist. & Gospels III. 555 Part of this Scripture hath already been spoken to.

1735 Swift Let. to Middleton in Wks. IV. 186 A Lawyer who speaks to a Cause, when the Matter hath been almost exhausted by those who spoke before.

1778 Earl of Malmesbury Diaries & Corr. I. 166 Unprepared as he was for such a proposition, he could not, he said, off-hand, speak to it accurately.

1869 Daily News 28 Apr. The report..was spoken to by the Most Rev. Chairman..and the Bishop of Derry.

1880 Daily News 19 Mar. 2/3, I wish to call your attention..to..that allegation, and I shall endeavour to speak to it.

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  • I appreciate your opinion that 'speaks to' is adequately formal. – T.Lipperz Apr 18 '16 at 12:18
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'Attests to' or 'resonates with' are other options. I find that students overuse 'speaks to' for want of a better phrase.

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    In many contexts, underscores works well as an alternative, too. – Sven Yargs Apr 1 '18 at 6:45
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In some cases, such as your first example, "demonstrates" or "illustrates" would work:

This event demonstrates the need for good communication.

This event illustrates the need for good communication.

Your second example is using the term in somewhat of a different sense. There, I might replace it with "address" or "respond to", such as:

Samantha, can you please address these dot points?

Samantha, can you please respond to these dot points?

Also, I agree with user WS2 that there is nothing informal or inappropriate about the use of "speaks to".

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