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For good presentations, script for the ear, not for the eye

I’ve just finished ‘voicing’ the talking book of Diana Henry’s excellent A Change of Appetite – final version twelve hours, 45 minutes.  That’s prompted me to share my thoughts with you (because I can no longer speak!) on the difference between material which is written to be read by an audience and that which is written to be delivered out loud.  It’s an issue which often comes up in my training room with people who, usually because they’re worried about forgetting their content, choose to meticulously craft a presentation (as if it were a document) and then either read it out or learn it.  They don’t realise that this is entirely counterproductive.

There are two reasons why.  In the first instance, there is more pressure (not less) on a speaker to remember a script word for word.  If a key sentence, phrase or word is mentally misplaced, all is lost.  This means that people become more anxious, not less, about forgetting their material.  Far better to dispense, from the outset, with a full script and work instead with bullets as a prompt.  The result is a style of delivery which is more natural and authentic.  A forgotten word won’t derail the whole presentation – an alternative can simply be used.  A ‘banana’, otherwise put, is a ‘yellow bendy fruit’!  And if you rehearse in this fashion – getting accustomed to the idea that the words come out differently each time – you will relax into a much more conversational and engaging style.

The second reason why writing a full script is bad news (as I was reminded during my 21 hours of reading out loud) is to do with language and syntax.  The way we construct material for a reader’s eye is generally more complex than they way human beings speak.  In written form we tend to use longer sentences, often with clauses and sub clauses, to communicate maximum information in as few words as possible.  This works well where the reader is in charge of their own pace and can go back to re-read a nutritious sentence or scan ahead to see where the clause is going.  But it’s extremely difficult to ‘deliver’ out loud.

So, if you’re seeking to make a real connection with a face to face audience, bite the bullet points, ditch the script and don’t worry about the yellow bendy fruits.