Part 1 - Delivery
There are four basic presentation methods used by speakers:
Speeches can be delivered using any of the above, or using a combination of all. Each has certain assets and liabilities. Veteran spokespersons have personal preferences depending upon the type of speaking engagement and upon their own personal abilities and limitations. Hard and fast rules don’t exist for selecting presentation methods.
Speaking without notes of any kind is a risky business. I have yet to meet the spokesperson who can do as good a job without notes as he/she could do with them. Some speakers can give a reasonably decent presentation off the top of their heads, but most who attempt this feat flounder in a sea of redundancy without logical organization or direction. The result is often the expenditure of precious speaking time with little audience impact achieved. I don’t recommend the impromptu method for most speakers.
A case has been made that winging it completely independent of notes allows more eye contact and physical reinforcement. Nonetheless, the effective nonverbal communication of undeveloped thoughts and incomplete ideas is hardly a goal worth striving for. A good speech has a goal and a purpose; it also has a planned course to reach that goal. Effective message design is best accomplished by professional speechwriters, but it can be mastered by the novice if solid techniques are applied. These will be discussed in PART V.
Another form of speaking free of notes is memorization. I strongly recommend that you never attempt to give a speech committed to memory. Some professionals can get away with this – sometimes. Memorizing a speech is even more risky than just “winging’ it. Should you lose concentration for only a moment, you may be hopelessly lost in a fog of jumbled thoughts and phrases. Memorized speeches usually sound memorized. Spontaneity evaporates; audience involvement is lost.
In my coaching experience I’ve found that most nonprofessional speakers prefer to speak from a detailed outline. The outline offers the dual benefit of speaker spontaneity and conversationality, while still emancipating the eyes to rove through the audience. However, should the speaker draw a complete blank at some point, rescue isn’t far away. Also, outlines lend themselves to visual markings for interpretation, vocal emphasis, pauses, etc.
The outline method allows the speaker freedom to move which, in turn, breeds physical reinforcement and eye contact.
I have seen speakers inconspicuously tape notes on props and flip charts. I have also seen speakers use slides as a complete program outline. When no podium is available, notes should be written on 3x5 or 5x8 index cards. These cards, if they must be held, should be held approximately waist high, not in the speaker’s face. Being small and sturdy, index cards eliminate some of the distracting sounds and sights of shuffling paper. Write on only one side of the card. This eliminates the possible confusion that might be caused by unnecessary shuffling. It’s easy to forget which cards have already been used when you’re a bit nervous.
A solid outline is more than the random notation of facts and figures on a paper napkin. Effective outlines are best sandwiched between completely written-out openings and closings. Remember, the first words you speak greatly affect the impression you foster of yourself; your closing words are the most remembered. Start strong and finish strong. The body of the outline should include important data, key thoughts, and transitions from each major section.
Professional speakers believe that a good speech should contain no extra parts or pieces; that every word should be measured and calculated to perform a specific function. Many pros write their speeches out word-for-word. It is the best way to deliver clean, powerful, effective messages. The pitfalls, however, are many – especially for the novice.
Manuscripts shouldn’t simply be read to your audience; they must be delivered. Reading a speech can stifle interpretation, retard physical reinforcement, and restrict eye contact. When speaking from a manuscript, it is imperative that you be completely familiar with your copy. That necessitates many rehearsals. Great care should be taken to type or print legible copy that is physically marked for emphasis, pauses, etc. Only then can you retain conversationality, and employ effective nonverbal skills.
Done well, the manuscript method requires more preparation than any other presentation method with the single exception of memorization. It can also pay the highest dividends. I use the manuscript format for all critical speaking engagements; I use a detailed outline for the rest.
I find the manuscript method provides me the opportunity to weed out difficult words and sounds. This lessens the odds of an embarrassing mispronunciation or falter during the speech. Being an experienced speaker, I’m able to retain the conversational flavor I aspire to, plus solid nonverbal skills.
The manuscript can be a useful tool when members of the press are in attendance. Advance copies for them help insure (although it does not guarantee) accurate quotations.
With experience, each speaker settles into a comfortable format which, as I indicated before, is most often a combination of the outline and manuscript methods: the “detailed outline.” Many methods are sound, but all require preparation and practice. There are no short cuts, and no substitutions for being prepared.