For some reason, there are lessons that take a long time to learn – however often an action leads to negative consequences, you just seem bound to repeat it. One lesson I really hope I have now learned is that reading from a script doesn’t work – at least not for me. In the past few years I have tried this in numerous situations:
- giving speeches (such as at the E-Learning Awards a week or so back)
- when presenting a Pecha Kucha (that’s 20 slides each displayed for 20 seconds if you’ve yet to be initiated)
- when recording a screencast (it sounds so much better when improvised)
- when recording a podcast (free-form interviews work much better)
There are good reasons for thinking that reading from a script will work. After all, the best TV presenters do it convincingly. And you can be absolutely sure that you’re going to cover every point clearly. However, reading from a script doesn’t work well in a face-to-face setting because it forces you to lose eye contact with the audience for sustained periods. And even when you’re recording a voice-over it’s really hard not to come over as wooden and rather boring.
Can it be made to work? Well, perhaps, but professionals have one of two advantages: either they’ve got the luxury of a teleprompter, which allows them to retain eye contact with the audience or camera; or they’ve rehearsed well enough that they’ve got so familiar with the words that they only need to refer to them periodically. As Mark Twain said,”It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
I’ve made two resolutions. First, to avoid having to use any type of script if at all possible. Far better to trust in your instincts and talk around some key headings. Second, where a tight structure is absolutely essential, make sure I write the words in a form that suits being spoken and not read, and then put in the hard work as actors do and learn your lines.
As a natural speaker, my father is my model here. He would quite happily get up and speak at any occasion. He never prepared and he never had a single note. He just said the right thing without fuss and sat down again. No slides and few jokes, but effortless.