It’s rarely a good idea to read speeches. Reading a speech glues your eyes to your notes, making it difficult to make eye contact and establish a connection and rapport with your audience – or to gauge your listeners’ reactions. Reading keeps you anchored to the lectern, unable to explore the stage or move freely.
Further, when reading from a script, your delivery is almost always affected – not wholly natural, and lacking your usual presence. Since you’re focused on reading the words correctly, there’s a tendency to lose the meaning behind them. Your normal (genuine and convincing) tone, emphasis, rhythm and inflections are lost. You risk sounding monotonous, insincere, even unprepared.
When to read a speech
As mentioned in the video below, there are only a few occasions when reading a speech may be acceptable:
- When you are delivering a talk at a formal event, such as a commencement
- When the subject of your speech is highly emotionally charged for you (as in a eulogy)
- When it’s critical that a prepared talk be delivered exactly as written, word for word (as in some political speeches, for example)
For many people, the practical reasons for choosing to read a speech are public speaking anxiety, and lack of time to properly prepare. Let’s face it: sometimes it’s impossible to find enough hours to memorize and practice a talk before the big day. And it can be hard to find an expert who can coach you on your performance. The ideal is not always feasible.
How to read a speech
When you find yourself in a situation where reading a speech is the only viable option, it’s still possible to give your audience good value as a speaker. Here are some tips:
- Understand your message. When you do, you are able to determine when to pause, which words and phrases to emphasize, how to modulate your voice and so on.
- When writing your speech, use words appropriate to normal conversation. Remember that not all words that look good on paper sound right in a speech.
- The fact that you’ll be reading a speech doesn’t give you license to skip rehearsing it. Read your speech through many times, just as you’ll deliver it. This gives you maximum familiarity with the material, and helps you sound engaging and convincing.
- Don’t forget to make eye contact with your audience. Look up from your notes from time to time and make connections.
- Use gestures and facial expressions wherever possible and necessary. Work to include body language in your delivery, even though you’re reading your speech.
The way you prepare your script (the printed pages) can also help when it comes time to deliver it. Here are some tricks presented by Andrew Dlugan:
- Use a large font size that’s easy for you to read.
- Use italics, boldface, underlining of colors to mark words, phrases or sentences that require emphasis.
- Don’t use all uppercase – it is more difficult to read than regular capitalization.
- Use line breaks to indicate pauses. Instead of using usual paragraph format, try a poetry format (short lines).
- Use double spacing. Since you’ll be frequently looking up and down, more space between lines makes it easier to keep your place.
Have you ever had to read a speech at an event? Let us know how you handled the challenge in the comments.