Oh, the temptation. You’re already sitting in front of a computer for a virtual event, why not just write out your presentation or speech word-for-word and have it pulled up on screen? Now you can get away with ‘eye contact’ since your camera is… sort of… where you’re looking. And there’s no worrying about hand gestures, or walking and talking. This is amazing!
The problem is, it doesn’t matter if you’re presenting on a stage or through a computer, tablet, cellphone or Jetsons video wristwatch (wait. We’re pretty close to that being a real thing, right?).
The second you start reciting a meticulously crafted script, those words, no matter how poetic, lose value because you lose authenticity. It moves away from a personalized presentation from a subject matter expert and ventures toward something mechanical and cold. Formal prose is the antithesis of casual conversation, and it creates a distance between the speaker and audience – speaking of, don’t even get me started on the problems with lecterns!
But if that’s the case, why do we feel so moved by famous, historical speeches that are scripted? Like, Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
As it would turn out, the text placed on the podium at the Lincoln Memorial that day did not include the four-word refrain that ultimately defined the speech.
Combine all of the above and it adds up to Rivers’ fifth tip: choose authenticity over perfection. “When you favor the development of a connection with your audience over a perfectly polished performance, you build an element of trust and relatability that otherwise cannot be achieved.”
Still not sold on chucking the script? Look at TED Talks. Many of them go viral because, well, they’re fantastic! Word on the street is there are 10 Commandments given to the speakers to help them achieve such greatness. Would you really be surprised to learn that number nine is ‘Thou shalt not read thy speech’? “Probably the worst of all public speaking sins,” Collective Hub says of scripting reciting. “If they wanted to be read to, you could’ve just sent them an email with your speech content.”
Wyeth also provides a slew of upsides to internalizing and downsides to scripting – with noticeably more benefits to ditching the script than the opposite. One pro he provides that we haven’t touched on yet, is the audience gets to see a speaker think on their feet. It demonstrates courage and confidence, which can translate into adrenaline and high energy felt by the attendees.
So how do you do it? The best starting point is bullet points. Jot down key topics, numbers, information, etc. that you need to say. Then, set a few bullets aside for what you’d like to say in conjunction with your pertinent content, like anecdotes. And finally, designate a few things to share if you have the time – the stuff you can live without, if need be. With ample practice, which is a must, very few words can launch you into your zone.