Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The speech question: Use notes--or not?

Every speaker has a choice when it comes to her words, and I've been wondering about whether speakers prefer speech texts, extemporaneous speaking or something in between. Over on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, I asked readers: "Speakers, do you prefer to use a written speech, just notes or speak extemporaneously? Tell us what you do and whether it works for you." And it seems our readers (so far) have a slight preference for speaking without text or notes--but are ready to switch it up depending on the circumstances. Here's what you said:
  • Angelina Seraphina Belmonte said her preference is to "Speak extemporaneously."
  • Clarissa Lester Kenty said, "I typically use a detailed outline with notes. I tend to be quite versed on the topic of discussion and I love to interact with the audience. A written speech tends to place a wall between the audience and me while creating an unnecessary crutch for myself."
  • Christine Hardy Hutchinson noted that "I prefer to use a written speech but my fellow Toastmasters have always strongly encouraged me to speak extemporaneously... easier said than done." (She added a :( emoticon.)
  • Winnie Chung said she prefers to "speak extemporaneously but notes are good too, depends on the situation."
  • Emily Deck said it "depends on the topic and how well I know it. Sometimes it's easier for me to write my speech and then create notes from it."
  • Patricia Elrod-Hill said, "I much prefer extemporaneous speech, but with a few notes."
How should you decide which to use? A lot depends on your experience and comfort level, but here are some guidelines:
  1. Consider the setting and tone: A large audience, more formal event, or one in which you're responsible for accurately reading lots of details (such as people's names and citations during an awards ceremony) all are occasions that may call for a speech or at least a written script.
  2. What impact do you want to have on the audience? Even audiences in large auditoriums like speakers who get out from behind the lectern. Do you want to energize the crowd, work from their reactions or be able to interact directly with them? You may need to forego a text.
  3. How precise is your message? Giving a pointed policy speech often means you need to stick to your script and keep the words within certain parameters.
  4. Do you want soaring rhetoric? Composing it ahead of time may be your best option if you want language that stands out and rings in the ear of your listeners.
  5. Think about your feelings: If there are high emotions at play, you may want a mix of text and spur-of-the-moment speaking. Delivering a eulogy requires thoughts that come from the heart and should include some extemporaneous points, but you may want a text or notes to help you through it.
Share your considerations when you decide to work with a written speech--or without one. I'm going to invite some speechwriter colleagues to share with us their thoughts on what a written text can do to enhance your public speaking.