When is it appropriate to read your speech word for word from a prepared text?

Most speeches nowadays are given more as informal talks than formal orations.  There are, however, occasions when it’s important to read your speech from a prepared text.  For example:

mic*When the subject is complex, i.e. presenting a scientific paper, and you don’t want to make a mistake.

*When it’s a formal event, i.e. an international conference, where you need to say every word correctly in a limited amount of time.

*When it’s an emotional setting, i.e. a memorial service, and you don’t want to forget anything or be overwhelmed by your feelings.

*Or any other occasion when misstating a phrase or omitting a word could cause a misunderstanding that might have critical consequences, i.e. speaking to the United Nations.

Many folks prefer to read their remarks rather than just talk to the audience because they’re afraid they won’t say it right, will forget something important or run out of time before they’ve said all they want to say.  Having the speech in front of them and reading it is like having a Linus blanket.  It gives them the confidence they need to speak to the audience at all.

If you feel you absolutely have to read your speech in order to say it properly, there are a couple of dangers you need to be aware of.

  • While you’re looking down at the page, the audience will be looking at the top of your head.  Hard to make eye contact that way.
  • It’s easy to fall into a dull monotonous tone where every word sounds like every other word, without emphasis on the important points or pauses between phrases or sentences.
  • When you aren’t looking at the audience, you can’t tell how they’re reacting to your material.  You’re accustomed to the sound of your own voice, but are they?  Can they even hear you properly?

What can you do to avoid these reading traps?  The trick to reading a speech is not to look or sound like you’re reading a speech.  It’s a learned skill like many others. Try these techniques:

  1. Take a deep breath before you start a new paragraph.
  2. Look at the audience at the end of every sentence; pause and take a breath before you begin the next one
  3. Look at the audience every 6-8 words.
  4. Break your sentences into phrases so you can look at the audience before and after each phrase.
  5. Keep a finger on the text when you look at the audience so you won’t lose your place.
  6. Show your enthusiasm for your material.  Avoid reading in a monotone.  Let your  passion for your thoughts shine through.
  7. Smile at the audience at appropriate moments, i.e. at the beginning of your speech, at selected moments when you say something you’re really excited for them to know, and at the conclusion.
  8. Rehearse reading your speech at least three times before you give it,

*to be sure you’ll speak within your allotted time,
*to familiarize yourself with your favorite phrases that you need to say correctly,
*to practice looking up from your text to smile at the audience at appropriate moments,
*to remember not to read more than 6-8 words at a time without looking at the audience, and
*to practice varying your voice tone and quality so you don’t fall into a monotone.

A funny thing will happen as you rehearse your reading technique. You’ll find confidence you didn’t know you had begin to assert itself.  You’ll start to enjoy giving this speech because you’ll feel comfortable, you’re in control, and you know what you’re doing. It’ll be easier than you ever thought it would be.  In fact, you may even enjoy the experience.  Who knew?