The majority of my job is advising clients on how to improve public speaking. My advice is always predicated on being yourself, but that’s easier said than done when you’re in the heat of the moment and the adrenaline starts to flow.
There are a few technical areas which – if you get them right – will help you to improve public speaking and ensure you overcome any fear you might have to deliver meaningful, well-received presentations.
Scripting your speech
One of those areas is whether to use a script, prompt cards, rely on your memory or wing it. Here are some tips on each approach and suggestions on the right direction.
All options carry some risk, so here is a rundown of my thoughts.
Using a Full Script
Preparing a full script can be a positive, especially if you are delivering a reasonably long speech. If you are a competent reader, you can be confident you will cover all the key points you want to, in a style with which you are comfortable.
Make sure the font size you are using is at least 16pt. A larger font makes it easy to reference quickly and avoids your eye missing a line and use 1.5 or double line spacing to make the script easy on your eye.
Also, make sure you have plenty of breaks in your paragraphs, don’t have one long body of text, and always end the page on a full stop.
You would need a lectern, keep the pages loose so you can move from page to page easily and be subtle. You could use a folder with plastic pockets to keep the pages in order and slide each page across easily.
If you are preparing the speech, make sure you script it to suit your speaking style so the audience hears your voice and it feels natural to you. Remember, the core message is to find your own style and not use overly complicated jargon if that’s not how you usually speak.
However, if the speech is being prepared for you, work with the speechwriter to help them understand your style. They will need to familiarise themselves with the vocabulary you use and the pace at which you speak.
Challenges of a full script
Using a script can be a little off-putting, and while you can have the confidence of knowing every word you want to say is right in front of you if you are not used to reading aloud in public, it can be problematic.
Often, public speakers reading verbatim can lose their place or replace a word with one they might be expecting as part of their natural parlance.
This pause can cause panic as the speaker tries to regain their place. They might start to speed up under pressure and end up making more mistakes.
There is also a tendency to focus on the script and not engage the audience, reducing the impact of the speech.
There is no problem using a script; many politicians can be seen using fully drafted speeches as they go from engagement to engagement. However, if you are going to use the full transcript, you must practise and, where possible, prepare it yourself with the right size fonts and paragraph breaks to suit your pace.
It is also vital you implement the practices from our training that help engage the audience if you are reading from a speech.
We can train you to use delivery techniques that allow you to use a full script, yet never look reliant on it, giving you peace of mind for those more formal presentations.
Using Prompt Cards
Using prompt cards is my preferred option as I think it combines the best of both worlds.
The use of prompt cards can make your speech far more fluid and natural. However, there are few things to consider when using this approach.
Don’t Write Out An Entire Speech
Prompt cards are not a replacement for a whole speech. Don’t attempt to write out your full speech on the cards.
Firstly, the writing will be considerably smaller and more challenging to read, and secondly, it will result in you reading again and ignoring your audience.
Using prompt cards will remind you of the critical points you want to cover. If they are used correctly, they will help you craft your story in your own words. Not having every word written down means that it is considerably easier to maintain your flow if you miss or replace a word.
They will also help you adapt your content if you need to change or reduce the length of your presentation for any reason.
So if – for some reason – you need to reduce your presentation, you can remove the supporting examples, for instance, and just speak about the key points. You will still be covering your main topics, just without the supporting detail.
Challenges of using prompt cards
Make sure the bullet points you use are thought triggers for what you want to say – if you just have subject titles or topics, the notes won’t work for your brain.
The difficulty of using prompt cards comes when you have not prepared your speech. While they help remind you of the main points of your story, they will have little benefit if you’re not ready with supporting commentary.
Keeping your cards in order is crucial. It might seem simple, but it can knock your confidence if something unconnected appears on the next card.
Finally, there is a tendency for people to fidget with cars and use them as pointers which can be distracting for your audience.
Notes give you flexibility, you can adapt them easily depending on the audience and situation. They make a good impression that you are prepared, whilst not looking too reliant on them.
You might find that through the exercise of creating the notes, then practising with them, that you hardly need them on the day – but always keep them nearby as an insurance policy!
Speaking without any notes or supporting material is an impressive approach. However, it requires an incredibly confident, experienced presenter who knows their subject thoroughly, and even then it can still be risky.
The premise is that you are fully engaged with the audience; you have no distractions. You can engage in conversation with your audience as you would in a one on one scenario.
As a presenter, you would need a lot of time to prepare thoroughly. Ultimately you would need to write the speech, practise it incessantly and feel very comfortable in your own ability.
Challenges of a speech from memory
Delivering a speech from memory is quite an undertaking, especially when you add in the pressure of an audience. You can quite quickly lose your place, or your mind can go blank and it can be challenging and stressful to regain your composure.
There have been a few classic examples of public speakers learning their speech from memory and then standing up without any supporting material and things not quite going to plan.
Ed Milliband famously addressed the Labour Party Conference in 2013 for an hour without any notes. In general, his speech went well and he achieved the conversational style he was after. However, it emerged the next day that he had missed an essential element of his speech around the deficit, a crucial issue of the day.
This is probably the most challenging of the three approaches. Speaking without prompt cards or a full speech can be an excellent experience for the audience. They feel completely engaged in the story you deliver; however unless you are a very accomplished public speaker and have had the time to prepare your address fully, it is a risk.
How To Improve Public Speaking
You must find the best approach for you. Remember, the best public speakers allow their personality to shine through. However, to connect with the audience and ensure your message gets through, I would suggest using prompt cards is probably the best approach for most people.
If you would like to find out more and get some tips on each approach, get in touch.