What’s the Problem with Speaking from a Script?

Christopher Witt —  October 14, 2015 — 2 Comments

Teleprompter, Speech, ScriptDonald Trump has nothing but contempt for politicians who use a teleprompter when making a speech.

He gives every appearance of standing in front of an audience and simply saying whatever comes to his mind. He extemporizes. He does not give prepared speeches.

Trump seems to think that using a teleprompter and, by extension, speaking from a prepared script somehow makes a speaker inauthentic. Insincere. Less authoritative.

Is that the case?

Does relying on a script — one that you’ve written or had written for you — make you a bad speaker? Does it lessen your credibility? Does it dilute your message?

Of course not. On the contrary, preparing a script and speaking from it is the best way to improve your speaking.

Giving a speech is like undertaking any project. You wouldn’t simply show up unprepared and wing it. Not if a lot was at stake. Not if you wanted to succeed.

Preparing a script for a speech requires you to

  • Plan
    You have to know your audience and what they want and need to know. You have to know your subject. And you have to decide on your focus — what exactly you want to address and, more importantly, what you want to achieve.
  • Think
    You have to stake out a position and make its case, presenting a logical argument with supporting evidence. And you have to make it emotionally appealing to your audience, because logic alone doesn’t move people to action.
  • Create
    You have to evoke images and metaphors, tell stories, and use language that is clear and memorable and that appeals to the senses.

I always prepare a script for a major speech. I learn it by heart, which isn’t to say that I memorize it word for word. I practice it over and over again. And then, mostly, I leave the script on the podium and speak without referring to it.

When you’re giving a high-stakes speech — when your reputation or the success of your organization, initiative, or project is on the line — you owe it to yourself and your audience to prepare a script.

What do you think? How do you prepare for your major presentations? Do you find any merit in writing them out?

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

2 responses to What’s the Problem with Speaking from a Script?

  1. Trump doesn’t show much respect to anyone so why would he start with an audience. Please let’s not use Trump as a measure of anything civilised.
    I do script very important speeches but I also allow room to dance. I think being able to think on your feet and respond to what’s happened at the conference/meeting and adapt your speech or even ditch your speech if necessary is important.

    • John,

      You’re right in both accounts.

      Trump isn’t a good reference point, given his utter lack of respect and civility. I use him as a jumping off point only because I think/fear that he exemplifies a growing trend away from prepared speeches. Most of my clients are business leaders who are so overwhelmed that they don’t or can’t take the time needed to prepare. So they settle for working off a couple of quickly jotted down talking points. And no one dares to tell them that what they said was anything less than sterling.

      Like you I like to play off the audience in the moment. But to do so — maybe this is just me with my insecurities — I need to be thoroughly prepared.

      I also make the (perhaps artificial) distinction between a formal speech (which requires more detailed scripting) and a presentation (which allows for much more give and take with the audience).

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