Can I Read My Speech?

Many of my students come the to the TalkPower Workshops with the idea that reading a speech is unprofessional; they fear that reading will make them lose their spontaneity. This is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard and completely impractical. An all-or-nothing approach will only serve to discourage you from ever taking the risk of ever speaking in public.


Isn’t it better to feel confident, using a script? Why avoid an opportunity to speak because you will forget what you wanted to say? If you do accept and opportunity to speak, isn’t it foolish to run the risk of rambling on and on, feeling insecure and embarrassed? Is it any wonder why there are so many terrible speakers out there when people are taught that using a script is a big no no? Of course you can read. Common sense will tell you that confidence comes from feeling secure, and this will happen only if your speech is accessible.

The fact is that people use their spontaneity when they read from a paper because they prepare a talk as if it where a term paper. “Fill up as many pages as possible and you’ll get a better grade.” If the professor had to skim over repetitions and irrelevancies, that was his problem. A listening audience cannot skim. Go of the beaten track for half a millisecond and you lose your crowd. The audience tunes out planning dinner, lunch, the weekend, counting the tiles on the ceiling…

Learning how to write for a listening audience, not a reading audience in a TalkPower workshop makes all the difference. After you have been using a written script for some time, and have internalized what a real beginning, middle, and end are all about, you will be able to speak without a script.

An old wives tale maintains that if you read from a script you will sound stilted. Actually, you sound stilted when you constantly read with your nose in the text. The secret of appearing spontaneous lies in rehearsing the script so that you look up at the audience and then back at your script, from time to time. Practice your talk looking at the text, then looking out at your imaginary audience, then finding your place and looking at your text again. Not only will you feel secure, you will appear charming, knowledgeable, and in control.

Each year I subscribe to a series of play readings in New York City, produced by a very talented theater company called TACT (The Actors Company Theater). The actors are all seated in a semi circle and every actor reads from his script. These readings rank among the best theater I have ever experienced. Much work and rehearsal goes into each production, yet not one actor memorized or improvises his part. Every word is read from a script, and the results are always delightful.

Politicians read their speeches from a teleprompter and they usually go off without a hitch.

Perhaps last month you saw a professional speaker a long, magnificent, hilarious presentation without reading fro ma single note. And perhaps you felt envious and inadequate. Let me assure you that this professional speaker has probably given the same talk 100 times in the last five years.

“I was scheduled at two colleges on two successive days. On the first day my talk on Ecology went over so well I decided to get more mileage by giving it the second day. My teenage son was with me and during dinner, prior to the second talk, I suddenly became aware that my son was regailing the head table with an exact account I had given the night before- and was about to give again!”


                                                            -Issac Asimov