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Planning to speak from a script? Read this first

Speak from the heart (and not a script) in order to engage your audience. Otherwise you risk losing your credibility.

Planning to speak from a script? Read this first
[Photo: AnnasPhotograph/Pixabay]

I recently worked with a CEO who wanted to go over his script for an off-site event. I assumed he was giving a high-pressure keynote in a large auditorium or delivering a long, formal speech. But I was wrong. He was preparing to deliver merely one minute’s worth of welcome remarks.

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“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “You can speak from the heart for 60 seconds.”

You might think that’s easier said than done. But you need to throw away your script to gain credibility as a leader, or at least teach yourself not to rely on it so much that it sounds like you’re reading instead of talking. Here are five reasons why.

1. You might bore your audience

Think about how you talk. Do you speak in long-winded sentences and complicated words or in simple, short sentences that make your point right away? Now think about how you write. Are there long paragraphs and stuffy phrases that shouldn’t be there?

Speaking directly from prepared remarks can make you sound dry and boring, even if you’re a decent writer. That’s because speaking well is fundamentally different than writing out loud; your prose might “sound” great on paper but not when you utter it. You’ll be more likely to come across flat and dull because you have to fit so many words in one breath. As a result, you might risk seeming disengaged with what you’re saying, which could give the additional impression that you’re inauthentic and perhaps not to be trusted. Being boring doesn’t just risk losing your audience, it puts your credibility on the line, too. So ditch scripted remarks, and you may eliminate both liabilities at the same time.


Related: The only three notes you need to write before speaking off-script 


2. You’ll look unconfident

Perception is everything.Your audience might think that you’re not speaking from the heart if you memorize (or read) from a script. This is a credibility-busting move for leaders and experts. Don’t worry: Your audience can tell the difference between confidence and arrogance, and it’s critical to demonstrate trust in your speaking abilities. After all, your listeners are expecting you to show them why you’re an authority in the topic you’re speaking about–and a crucial part of that is a confident delivery. If you can’t show this to your audience, they’ll have little reason to trust you.

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3. You’ll weaken your gestures

You know that body language can make or break your presentation, and gestures can help you demonstrate conviction in your own ideas. But if you’re speaking from a script, any gesture you make might backfire.

The thing is, the best body movements come spontaneously. If you script every moment–and by extension, every gesture–your audience will be able to tell. Natural mannerisms slightly precede your words, but your “tacked-on” body movements will arrive too late. That means your gestures won’t flow naturally, and your overall talk won’t look fluid and genuine, either. This tells the audience that you’re not 100% confident in your material. At a minimum, your listeners expect you to capably hold forth on your topic of expertise. You can’t do that if you have to script every word and plan every movement.


Related: 8 apps that can fix all of your public speaking problems 


4. You’ll get anxious

You might think that speaking from a script will give you peace of mind, but it may actually fuel anxiety. Rather than acting like a crutch to support you if you get lost, you’ll end up constantly worrying about losing your place instead of speaking in the moment. That will make you look nervous–which can make you feel nervous, too. Your listeners will expect you to have some jitters, but not for your anxiety to show every few sentences.

Plus, if you’re worried about losing your place the whole time, you’ll break eye contact with your audience at critical moments in your speech. This typically happens toward the end of a sentence, right when you’re looking down to see what you wrote next. You should be looking at your audience instead. Making eye contact not only builds trust, but it can also help you gather cues on how your audience is reacting in real time. Depending on what you see, you can modify your speech and gestures to become more engaging, and show that you’re in command of the situation. Good luck doing that when you’re too anxious about getting the next word or sentence right–or looking credible in the process.

So before drawing up a script for your next talk, remember this general rule: The more you can speak spontaneously, the more credible you’ll appear. Of course, this doesn’t mean ditching notes altogether. It’s always helpful to do plenty of preparation before you launch into your off-the-cuff speech. Just give up the script before stepping out in front of the crowd.

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About the author

Anett Grant is the CEO of Executive Speaking, Inc. and the author of the new e-book, CEO Speaking: The 6-Minute Guide. Since 1979, Executive Speaking has pioneered breakthrough approaches to helping leaders from all over the world--including leaders from 61 of the Fortune 100 companies--develop leadership presence, communicate complexity, and speak with precision and power.

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