In a Nutshell:
- We don’t write the way we speak.
- If you want to sound natural and present with a conversational tone, try talking through your presentation before you write.
- Prepare your outline and then record yourself talking through it. Then transcribe and edit. You can repeat the process several times as you rehearse. When you finally give your presentation, you’ll sound both natural and eloquent.
When you have a speech or presentation to give, do you immediately try to write a full script? For some, the act of writing helps bring focus and clarity to one’s thoughts. For others, it’s recipe for disaster: hours of battling against “writer’s block” and then the pain of trying to deliver the presentation without sounding like a robot!
To Script, or Not to Script?
For speakers, this can be quite a polarising debate – one I won’t go into here. The bottom line is that while the best speeches are usually scripted, a script is not a speech. No matter how good your script is, you still have to translate your written communication to spoken communication. And that requires plenty of rehearsal. Too often, we sacrifice rehearsal time for scripting time and the result is a lifeless presentation that is either recited or read, putting the audience to sleep.
Even if you devote ample time to rehearsal and can effortlessly deliver your presentation word for word, there’s still a strong chance you’ll sound more like an android than a human being. Why is that? It’s because written language and spoken language are not the same. The words, phrases, sentence structures and cadences we use in our writing are often quite different from those we use when speaking naturally.
So is it better to ditch the script altogether? Well, if you have little time to prepare, I’d say yes. But if you want to give your best presentation, I believe a script is an essential tool for your preparation. That said, it’s not the first step. We want the precision of good writing and the charm of good speaking. To get the best of both worlds, we need to take a special approach.
A Better Way: Speak. Script. Speak.
- Try speaking through your presentation first. Prepare an outline and then record yourself talking through it. You could even get a friend to interview you on the topic or listen and ask questions as they come up. This will help you keep it conversational while finding any holes in your presentation the moment they appear.
- Next, transcribe your audio recording. You can do this yourself or use an audio transcription service. That transcript is your first draft. Now it’s time to edit! Cut out the fillers (“ah”, “uh”, “um”), the fluff (“like”, “you know”, “I mean”, “basically”, etc.) and any unnecessary repetition. See if any segments need reordering. Polish your main points. Play with your word choice to give your key insights more impact. Then start rehearsing! As you do so, you can keep making small revisions to your script as you go along.
- Finally, you’re ready to speak to your live audience!