The Seven Deadly Sins of Public Speaking (and how to avoid them) #1

Sin #1 Reading From a Script

For the next seven weeks, I will be covering some common novice (and not so novice) errors that people make when speaking in public. Being a kind soul, I am going to cover these with a fine mixture of sarcasm, snarkiness and helpfulness.

The first sin is by far and away the most common. Legion are the speakers who mount the stage with an armful of neatly written notes nestled under one arm and then, to the dismay of their audience (whom the speakers will not see at all for the next twenty minutes or so), go on to read word-by-word, line-by-line what they have written. On a good day, the audience at least get to hear some interesting stuff, even if they would have been as well to read the paper, without having Mr (or Mrs) Boring read it to them with all the flair of a wet flannel. On a bad day, they will be searching their bags for a pillow and settling down for a nap.

So, what’s so wrong about reading from a script? Surely, it tells everyone that you have put in so much preparation that you don’t want to get a single word wrong. Every jot, tittle, comma and period is so carefully placed that it would be almost heretical to get them wrong.

Sadly, that is not how most audience interpret it. Quite the opposite in fact. Instead of coming across as being ultra-prepared, script-readers come across as under-prepared. After all, if you had put in enough rehearsal time, you wouldn’t need the script! If you actually knew well what you were going to say, you could at least spare your audience the courtesy of eye-contact.

Reading from a script also makes you come across as self-absorbed. After all, unlike some lizards, human can only look at one thing at one time. Every second spent reading your script is a second you are disengaged from your audience. It is also a second where you are thinking about what YOU want to do and not what THEY need or want to hear. Whoops!

So how do we avoid the need to read from a script? There are actually two related solutions. The first and most obvious is rehearsal, a subject that has been covered before here. Simply put, the more you rehearse, the less you need to take with you to the stage and the more you can engage with the people who are listening to you.

The second solution is to draw a distinction between what you need to say and what people need to read. Not all details need to be explored in detail and not all details need to even be there. The emphasis, as has been said before, needs to be on flow and the main point(s) of your talk. So, if people need to know about lists of figures or results, put them on a PowerPoint slide or a handout, don’t read them out number-by-number from a script. If your ideas are too complex to be explained in notes, slides or handouts, they are probably too complicated!

The point is that speaking detail is not the best way to give it to people. We take in information differently and in different amounts through our different senses. Work with these differences rather than trying to shove everything down the same channel.

So, reading from a script is not hard to avoid. Simply rehearse and think about what information needs to go where.  Easy.

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About Jonathan Downie

I am a conference interpreter, public speaking coach, preacher and researcher.
This entry was posted in Delivery, Preparation, Public Speaking. Bookmark the permalink.

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