There are basically four ways to deliver a speech:
- Write it out and read it (i.e. the manuscript)
- Memorize it
- Wing it (i.e. impromptu)
- Use notes or brief outline
Each of these methods of delivery has its advantages and disadvantages. Be sure to note your strengths and weaknesses when determining a method of delivery. Today, we’ll focus on the manuscript.
Using the Manuscript – Advantages
Writing out a speech in its entirety is fairly common in my experience. On the surface, it seems to be the best method:
- You know exactly what you want to say
- You can really develop the format
- You can choose your words more carefully
A lot of my students have a tremendous amount of anxiety stemming from a fear of the unknown. Maybe we all suffer from this to some extent. It’s bad enough that you have to look at all those people looking back at you. No sense in compounding the problem by not knowing what to say. That makes sense. Write out the speech, and you automatically make this a less daunting task.
When you write out the speech, you can really focus on the format. It’s nice to write down “introduction,” “body,” and “conclusion” and begin the process of filling in the blank spaces. It’s nice to go back and see what’s working and what’s not working. It’s nice to be able to add in quotes or numbers or testimony and the sources in a manner that flows from one thought to the next.
It’s also nice to go back and edit what has been written, choosing better words or phrases, checking each sentence for clarity, cutting out unnecessary words or statements. Each word can be carefully chosen to provide a bigger impact. The quality of the speech increases with each revision.
In sum, the speech looks and feels more prepared, and probably because it is more prepared (than say, winging it). So, write it out, get up there, and just read it.
But, therein lies some problems.
Are You Speaking Through a Synthesizer?
When you read, you sound like you’re reading. I’m not sure what that is, but it has a very washed out, emotionless, monotone quality to it. You don’t have to sound that way, but you do. Most of us do. It’s like somewhere in sixth or seventh grade we realized that people were judging us for having fun in school, so we quickly acted like we didn’t care about doing a better job than others. So, we took all emotion out of our speech, and we muttered and mumbled our way through speeches and acted like we could care less. Everyone else did it, so it must be the right thing to do, right? Not so much, but that’s an issue for another day.
Why Won’t You Look at Me?
Not only do we sound like we’re reading when we read, but we are actually reading, or rather we are not engaging the audience. Eye contact suffers tremendously. It’s terribly difficult to read something and look at something else (or someone else). If you actually do look up, you run the risk of losing your place and your rhythm.
What Did I Write?
One problem with reading a speech aloud is that it requires a certain degree of expectation. You almost need to know what you are going to say before you say it. I realize that you think that writing it is enough to jog your memory when it comes to reading the speech to an audience. But, how many times have you read something aloud only to get confused by the wording? For whatever reason, the word order just doesn’t make sense to you, and you end up staring at the page trying to figure out what the heck you wrote the other day.
Another problem with reading a speech is that it requires you to write it out. That’s time-consuming. This isn’t so much a problem by itself, except that a lot of people (at least a lot of my students) seem to hand-write the speeches. This wouldn’t be an issue if everyone printed in nice big letters and in a clear, consistent font. But, this isn’t the case.
No, instead, I have seen speeches written on the back of old tests, notebook paper, and even on a napkin. Ever the thrifty ones, the words are scratched onto the paper in a 5-pt. font that can only be described as “chicken-scratch-vitica.” I rather enjoy watching them squint at their own writing and wonder what it means.
It means type it out with a word processor. It means make it a nice large (i.e. readable) font.
All these problems suggest that maybe you ought to choose a different method of delivery. That might work, but let’s not be too hasty. You can work from a manuscript (or any method). The key is to recognize the problems associated with the manuscript, and work harder to overcome them.
That means you will have to spend more time working on the delivery of the speech, particularly on the sound of your voice and the eye contact with the audience. For your voice, you’ll have to bring back some feeling in what you say. It helps to know what you are saying, and actually feel tied to what you are saying. In other words, you’ll have to read the speech aloud several times, practicing how you say the words. As for eye contact, you have to find ways to really look at your audience. We’ll look at that more in-depth later, but for now, understand the need to make that connection with other people with their eyes (and yours).
So, by simply taking the time to practice your well-written speech, you’ll understand it enough to deliver it with more impact. By taking the time to write it out clearly (whether on index cards or with a word processor), you stand a better chance of not getting confused by what you read.