(a couple of posts about communication issues today. Here’s the first).
If you read many articles about different approaches to take for speeches and presentations, you find a lot of people in favor of not using a manuscript.
But… maybe you should.
Here’s my thinking. First, quick: name the greatest speeches you know of. Pick your favorite: The Gettysburg Address; Kennedy’s Inaugural; I Have a Dream… Reagan’s speech after the Challenger explosion. They were all scripted. If you carefully watch I Have a Dream, Dr. King reads from a manuscript until he gets to the I Have a Dream portion (which, though appearing “off the cuff,” had actually been written for an earlier speech).
Here’s what might happen when you don’t write out a speech in full. You might ramble; you might go off subject; you might “skip” sentences, and lose your audience in the process.
To write a speech in full, and then to read it aloud (a number of times!), lets you know if you succeeded in creating a message with effective “flow.” This is what I mean:
I am saying this sentence now.
Now, this sentence is the sentence that should follow the sentence that I just said before this one.
Now, this sentence is the logical next sentence.
Each sentence builds on the prior sentence, and it all “flows” together.
A number of years ago, my colleague Karl Krayer told me I was weak on transitions. He was right about that. After a while, I finally got what he meant (I can be pretty slow to learn), and now I pay attention to my transitions.
You might ask, “Randy, do you write your speeches and presentations out word for word?” No… I speak very often. But I do use extensive notes – much more than just bullet points/talking points.! And, I am quite mindful about issues of flow.
And, I listen to student speeches. Speech teachers generally teach students not to speak from manuscripts. And, yes, a manuscript can really negatively effect eye contact. (The key is practice, practice, practice)…
But I’m always amazed at some “common wisdom.” It appears to be “common wisdom” to teach against the use of manuscripts. And yet, when we show exemplar speeches, they are practically all manuscripted speeches. Kind of a disconnect, don’t you think?
And, let’s be honest – I’ve heard some nearly incoherent student speeches because the students did not write them out in full.
Incoherence is not good when speaking…
Surely, it is not a bad idea to write out a speech in full. Reagan did it; Hillary Clinton does it; every President speaks from manuscripts (yes, they do use teleprompters – that helps).
But, any negatives in using a manuscript can be outweighed significantly by the positives. A manuscript helps you say:
what you intend to say,
all that you intend to say,
only what you intend to say,
and nothing that you don’t intend to say.
That sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
Years ago (in my preaching years), I got to know J. Daniel Baumann. He was a Pastor, and a professor of preaching. And he wrote a terrific book called An Introduction to Contemporary Preaching (now out of print). I asked him if he thought a preacher should write out sermons in full manuscript form. He said yes – for the first ten years. After that, he said, you won’t have to. You will have developed the discipline of choosing the right words, putting them in the right order…
I did not fully follow his advice. But I did a fair number of times – and I especially did in some “big” speaking assignments. Manuscripting helped me a great deal, I think…
Now, feel free to reject this advice. But, if you do, ask yourself:
Do you ever say anything you wish you had not said?
Do you ever leave key thoughts out?
Do you ever not quite make sense – are you skipping needed transitions?
Manuscripting can definitely help.
I spend part of my time writing speeches for others. I write them in full. I do my best to put them in “their words,” certainly with their stories, and their tone, and their personality. But, they are full manuscripts. Bullet points/talking points don’t quite accomplish the same thing.
So, if you have a speech to give (especially an important one), write it out in full.
Then, refine it. Write it for the ear. It’s not an essay – it’s a speech.
Use a lot of punctuation to remind yourself to pause, and verbally punch key words and phrases. It doesn’t have to get an A for proper sentence structure in English class. But it has to flow well, and not ramble, and make sense.
Practice the speech over and over and over again – so that you know the speech, and you don’t have to “look down the entire time” at your manuscript.
And, if it is written word-for-word, as you practice your speech, you will know exactly how long your speech is. Not an unimportant consideration!
But, I think you will have more complete, more effective presentations, if you write them carefully, word-for-word, before you present them.
That’s what I think…
(for our next “common sense” discussion, maybe we ought to tackle this. Many speech teachers teach students to speak from 3×5 cards. Quick, name the last time you saw a great speech delivered from 3×5 cards. You remember President Reagan holding his 3×5 cards, don’t you? Thought not!)