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Speak With or Without a Script?

Is it better to speak with a script or without a script?  Good question and a common one. The real answer is, of course, it depends. There are benefits and risks (pros and cons) each way.  We look at just a few of them and then look at video examples.

Benefits of Speaking With a Script

Speaking with a script increases the likelihood of saying the right word at the right time. A script can help if the information is extremely technical, statistical, procedural, or legal.  A script can also help if the speech writer is a different person from the speaker and the speaker does not have enough time to memorize the speech.

Risks of Speaking With a Script

Using a script takes more effort to create. Reduce the effort by writing only as much as you require. Reduce the script to bullets unless word-for-word correctness is required. Reuse content already written.

Reading a script can sound like you are reading a script. Write for speaking, not for prose or for a written report.  Also, do not read and speak word-by-word. Read ahead so that you can speak entire phrases. With practice and intention, these phrases can sound more conversational.  Reading word-by-word AND sounding like you are reading word-by-word is a sure fire way to turn off and tune out an audience.

Because our attention is glued to the script, ouor attention is not completely on the audience.  If we are taking our attention away from the audience, why should they give us theirs?  Perhaps the smart phone was invented by an engineer forced to suffer through too many boring presentations.

If you speak from and a teleprompter and the teleprompter fails... Joel Warren at Birdville Media Tech found out what can happen.

Thank you Warren for having a sense of humour. For more fun with teleprompter failures, check out these YouTube videos.

Risks of Speaking Without a Script

The biggest risk of speaking without a script is forgetting to say something important, or in the wrong sequence, or without clear transitions.  If you have time, the BEST way to overcome this risk is to practice until you know the information cold. The risk of doing that is that you practice until you sound cold, but not enough to sound conversational. The BEST way to overcome that is to video record yourself speaking.  If you have a competent speaking coach, so much the better. Review the presentation, observe, and listen.  Listen very careful to how to emphasize and pause. Are you interested or bored while listening to your own presentation?  If you ever listened to a telemarketer reading from a script, you know what I mean. They hate their job and you hate their job.

Benefits of Speaking Without a Script

The benefit of speaking without a script is the creative freedom to allow ideas to arrive and be presented freely. You might tend to speak more conversationally. You might look at the audience more because you aren't tethered to your talk. You can more easily respond to questions.  As long as you can speak clearly, logically and avoid overuse of management clichés, people will enjoy listening to you and value your content.

Michael Angelo Caruso suggests one way to remember your speech without using notes - what he calls the Rule of Threes.


You Tube has many videos of people speaking with and without scripts, but finding videos of the same speaker with and without a script was harder to come by. I wanted to show a wide variance so the point would be clear to you. I found and got permission to include and comment on Canadian professional speaking icon, Jim Clemmer. Jim wrote several books on leadership and management. He positively affects thousands of people through his training and keynote presentations. In the first video, he has an audience. He is unaware of the camera. While he loosely speaks from a script, using electronic slides as a structural guide and occasionally referring to notes.

In the next video, Jim is speaking at a video camera, without an audience, tightly follow a script positioned around the camera.

Although yes, there is a second variable at play here: script AND audience, can you still see and hear the difference between tight scripting and loose scripting or no scripting? With the audience and loose script, Jim converses easily with the audience, sharing his knowledge and wisdom for a well-invested event. In the studio with tight script and no audience, Jim demonstrates interest and enthusiasm, but his eyes, voice, and gestures are less congruent, perhaps with a higher degree of consciousness. With the audience, he seems to communicate at a more intuitive, authentic level. With less intention to push the message, perhaps he just IS the message.

To script or not to script? That is the question. Take your pick in your presentations, at our perfect pleasure or painful peril.

Craig Senior

P.S. In a separate post, we discuss the art of reading from a script.


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