Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Are you hiding behind your written remarks? Stand and deliver

The way some speakers hide behind their written remarks, you'd think those notecards and sheets of paper were bullet-proof shields. There's absolutely nothing wrong with using notes or a fully crafted text for your speech.  A written text--and reading from it--is required for important speaking situations like legislative testimony, and advisable in a host of other settings. But if you're going to use a text, you need to make sure it brings you closer to the audience, rather than protect you from reaching it.  Here's how to come out from behind the notecards to stand and deliver:
  • Be frank with your speechwriter.  If there are phrases that will never pass your lips, jokes that fall flat with you, quotations you'd prefer or points that are missing, speak up and share those insights. A text that you don't like won't make you want to face the audience. No one who's writing for you wants to make you stumble, so give them some clues to you.  Writing your own speech?  Get a pal to read it and listen to you read it to catch those false notes.
  • Practice out loud, with a trainer--and the writer--in tow.  I've trained many clients for specific speeches that were entirely based on a written text, and it works best when speaker, trainer and writer can all be present during the rehearsals. There's no better way to adjust a text to fit you; think of it as a custom tailoring session for your words. You'll hear where you stumble or hesitate, and the trainer and writer can collaborate on solutions on the spot.  You'll also hear from them what does and doesn't work, so you can focus on those sweet spots and changes as you keep practicing.  Bonus: If you work with a speechwriter on a regular basis, she'll do a much better job if she can sit in on your practices.
  • Nail your opening.  Affix it in your memory, and practice a strong start. You'll grab the energy and attention that's in the room, and it will enliven the by-the-book parts that follow.  But don't wing your opening, especially if you're using a text because you're nervous. It's not a good time to experiment.
  • Read with verve, style and enthusiasm. Gonna read? Then read like you're the storyteller-in-chief. Mark up that text with words you want to emphasize, insert pauses and inflections, add reminders to smile and breathe.
  • Build your non-script confidence by including one story you can tell without reading.  Rather than have to memorize a written story or read the entire script, ease into some extemporaneous moments by practicing a personal story you know well. You'll still have to rehearse it again and again, to get it short and crisp, but if you know the particulars by heart, you won't need a script. Make sure the writer puts "Tell vacuum story here" in your text instead of trying to write your story down. Then just look up at that point and tell the story. Go right back to your text when you're done.
  • Look up and around at your audience as you read.  This isn't as difficult as it may seem, even if you're super-nervous. Remember that you're there to deliver a speech, not just read--and if your audience can't look you in the eyes, they won't feel a connection.  Try looking up when you have short sentences to read, an especially good line that will get a laugh, or a few words to emphasize. If you're reading a list, for example, look at different parts of the room for each item in the list, with pauses in between.
  • Use your facial expressions and gestures to add energy and emphasis.  Just because you're reading doesn't mean you have to go expression-less. Smile, frown, wink; use your hand to sketch an image you're describing or indicate the room in one sweeping move. You can write these into your text, too.
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