In normal circumstances, I strongly recommend you don’t even think about reading your speech: bullet points are the way to go. But I’ve banged on about this at some length over the years and today I want to address those situations where you have no choice but to read your speech.
Luckily, these situations are rare but I’ve had two clients recently who’ve found themselves having to read, one from an autocue at a televised awards ceremony and the other from a paper script at a lobbying event at the House of Commons. The latter was compelled to read by the senior management of her organisation, who maintain it’s always done like this at the Palace of Westminster. I’d be surprised if this is true but the decision was made and we had to work with it.
Even if you know you’re going to have to read it, when you’re writing your speech, bear in mind how it will sound when you say it aloud. The best way to gauge this is to say it out loud and see how it sounds. If you find you’re running out of breath before the end of the sentence or you keep tripping up on the same passage, don’t force yourself to work harder at it but change the script so it’s easier to deliver. If it’s difficult for you to say, it will be difficult for the audience to follow and, anyway, you don’t need the stress. Keep the language natural and express yourself as much as possible in your own words and speech patterns – in the same way you would if you were going to speak from bullet points. The only difference is you’re writing it all down.
Once you’ve knocked your material into shape and finalised your script, you still need to practise reading it. Just because you’re going to be reading your lines, you don’t need any less rehearsal than if you were going to be presenting feigned spontaneity. In fact, in many ways, it’s more challenging to read a script convincingly than it is to speak from notes and you’ll therefore need more practice. It’s only by reading your speech aloud and thinking about the meaning of every word and phrase that you’ll be able to deliver the nuance you’re intending to convey.
I remember my mother telling me about a poster on the walls of the London underground during the Second World War, to remind people not to travel unless they had to, since the transport system was needed by those working for the war effort. Annoyingly, I can’t find an image of the poster she described – only a plainer one – but it consisted of the same question asked five times, each time with the emphasis on a different word, which had the effect of changing the nuance of the meaning.
IS your journey really necessary?
Is YOUR journey really necessary?
Is your JOURNEY really necessary?
Is your journey REALLY necessary?
Is your journey really NECESSARY?
When you’re reading your speech, be aware of how your inflection is colouring the meaning of your words and make sure you’re sending the message you planned to. Some people have a tendency to ‘put some expression into it’ in a random sort of way (a throwback to learning to read at school – reading aloud is something we almost never do in adult life, except stories to children), which makes the speech difficult for the audience to understand without effort. Never mind that you’re reading, you still need natural intonation and, contradictory as it may sound, the way to achieve this is to practise.