Thursday, October 19, 2017

Let it go: How to tell when your public speaking script should be frozen

When I'm coaching speakers who are preparing and then memorizing a script for a talk--often a talk in the style of TED--we invest a lot of time on the script early in the process. We discuss concepts, go through drafts, reorganize, restate, revise. And then we do it again, as much as is needed to make the talk work for both speaker and audience. By the time we're done, that talk is like a polished jewel. So how do I keep the speaker from revising it into oblivion, right up until the last minute?

I declare the script "frozen."

By that I mean no more major revisions, a key part of the process for the speaker who wants to have a prayer of knowing her talk when the time comes to deliver it. It's the opposite of the speaker who makes lots of tweaks and changes, right up until the moment of delivery. That keeps moving the goal posts on your goal of memorizing the talk, and even makes delivery with notes difficult.

Declaring your script frozen, and keeping it that way, takes a lot of self-control. But neither freezing the script, nor memorization, are perfect processes. So we allow for a couple of types of changes:
  • Where you repeatedly stumble, make a change in the script, either omitting or replacing the word or words that are giving you trouble; and
  • Where you repeatedly forget a word, group of words, or sentence, do the same: omit or replace.
Other than that, however, work on memorizing what you have so carefully crafted.

Engineer Lucy Rogers shared with this blog her experience experimenting a bit too much with when she froze her speech: "I froze [my script] on the Tuesday, before giving it on the Thursday...I wasn’t word perfect. I changed the first line and I missed out some of the jokes...Note to self: freeze the speech longer in advance to give yourself chance to learn it."

If you're still tempted to make change after change, it's a good opportunity to pull back and ask yourself why you're anxious about this speech. Too many changes can be a signal that you're in over-prepare mode. Take the time to work on your anxiety before the speech, rather than take it out on your script.

(Disney press kit image from the movie Frozen)

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