Speaking from a script? Use this 9-point checklist

If you’d rather not give your next speech extemporaneously, follow this checklist to make sure you can expertly speak from your notes.

It’s perfectly fine to work from notes or a text when you speak, but when you choose to not speak extemporaneously, you need a checklist. A text is no guarantee that things won’t go wrong.

When you choose to read from a script, follow this checklist:

1. Make sure you can pronounce everything.

I once wrote a script for a client who neglected to tell me that she pops the letter P when she speaks, and wanted to avoid it if possible. (Yes, that speech was loaded with Ps.)

If someone is preparing a speech for you, clue her in on any pronunciation issues you have. Practice aloud to make sure you won’t stumble over anything, and make any changes before you get up to speak.

2. Don’t write out personal stories.

Will you tell a personal story? If so, don’t write it down.

Just insert “tell vacuum cleaner story here” rather than try to script something you can tell without effort. This will force you to look at the audience, which will help you connect and sound less stilted.

3. Check the format.

Your working copy of a speech should look much different than the pretty version you’ll publish on the Web or hand out to the press. Make sure whole paragraphs are on one page, include notes to yourself about delivery and emphasis, or limit text to the top half of the page to keep you from looking farther and farther down. Experiment with a few formats to see what works for you.

4. Check the type size.

Likewise, you’ll need to experiment with type size to see which one helps you speak smoothly. I like to use a Kindle http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=theelowom-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B0083PWAPWor other tablet for notes, which allows you to adjust type size on the fly.

5. Check the distance from your face to the lectern.

You’d think all lecterns would be standardized, but they’re not-and neither are the heights and vision of speakers. Get on the stage before you speak to see whether you need to make adjustments. Don’t wait until the last minute.

Watch this cautionary video of actress Sally Field, who found that stage managers overcompensated for her short stature and put her too far above her text.

6. Avoid two-sided printing.

Your quest to be environmentally friendly won’t help you if you drop your pages and have to reorder them quickly. You could also simply forget to turn the page over. Many speakers leave out several paragraphs this way.

7. Consider monitors.

If your text is on a monitor, pare it down it to a minimal version. You want to be able to scan keywords, not read every comma.

8. Prepare copies.

Give advance copies to the interpreters, press, social media team and moderator, and think about others who might find your text useful. Who will live tweet? Who will need time to anticipate what you’ll say so they can do their jobs more effectively?

9. Make adjustments if you won’t be speaking in your native language.

If you are working from a text that’s not in your first language, include pauses, eye contact, body language and other non-verbal cues to aid understanding.

“As soon as people talk to a piece of paper, they lose,” says José Iturri, a senior Spanish interpreter at the European Commission. He puts trainees in the interpreters’ booth so they can get a feel for what they do as speakers. Watch the video below for a taste of this training.

Iturri and I both spoke at the European Speechwriters Network conference in London last May. Iturri also begs speakers and speechwriters to make sure the interpreter has your text in advance; it’s a step many often miss.

Denise Graveline is the president of don’t get caught, a communications consultancy. She also writes The Eloquent Woman blog, where a version of this article originally appeared.


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