Sure, you're good at delivering content. But do you have stage presence? Here's how to read a speech and still be an effective speaker!
Do your speeches and presentations take wing? Or do they remain earthbound, kept there by some heavy-handed delivery of data?
Here's another scenario that will ensure listeners won't be excited by what you're telling them: any attempt to 'read' a speech. We tend to forget (because we spend so much time writing then polishing our talking points) that reading and speaking are entirely different animals—in terms of both the speaker and audience's experience.
You can perfect your manuscript to your heart's content. But when you step into what I call 'the oral arena' of public speaking, you might experience what Dorothy Gayle conveyed to her dog Toto when her house finally landed in The Wizard of Oz: "I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
Indeed, you're not. Your job now is knowing how to stay fully focused so audiences have complete confidence in what you say. That flat-out beats presenting information without letting the audience know what it matters to them.
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Do You Stink at Reading a Speech?
If your answer to that question is 'Yes,' please know that you should stink at it. Reading a manuscript or notes is about as far as you can get from moving and activating audiences.
A client CEO said this to me recently; and she obviously considered it a serious drawback to her ability to lead her company: "I'm terrible at reciting a speech." "Well, no wonder," I replied. "That's not what you're supposed to be doing." Yes, you're sharing information that YOU have written down. But through your voice and delivery, that bare information has to change into this important matter that you're sharing with the audience. So It's vital that you understand why performance can matter more than content when it comes to great speaking.
What's written out isn't all-important . . . in fact, you can deviate from it as much as you like. What matters is that you tell listeners, in your own voice, what they need to know. As speaker [leader] [CEO] [VP of Sales, etc.] it's your interpretation of the data that's the gold they're seeking. That will never come through if you're reading a literary document word for word, and making it sound that way.
How to Sound Genuine When Working With a Script
If it seems that not doing that is impossible, remember this: actors manipulate your emotions (from fifty feet or more if it's a stage performance!) by reading the script word or word. But of course it doesn't sound that way. But there are NO substitutions, no asides, no human-interest story that the performer decides to slip in to make it all more interesting! Since as far as I know, actors don't possess different genes from non-actors, it's all just a question of learning the skill then getting better at it.
I sometimes demonstrate this when I'm conducting corporate training. It's always after I get the question: "But how can I read from my speech realistically and not sound like I'm reading?"
At that point, I ask if anyone in the group has a book with them. I ask that volunteer not to tell me the title of the book, but to open it up at random and blindly point to any section of the page. Then, as they keep their finger in the same place, I ask them to bring the book up to me. "Now, I don't know this book," I tell everyone, "and I obviously haven't seen any of this material before. But I'll read this page to you now as though I were giving a speech. And I guarantee you that I'll look at you and relate to you, rather than the page, for at least 80% of the time." Then I deliver the passage to them as a 'speech,' in the way I just described—achieving much more eye contact with them rather than the book.
This demonstration often elicits applause (and I admit it is a bit of showing off). But I tell everyone that there's nothing magic about this: it's just a skill I learned as a performer. If you have a need for knowing how to achieve presence and charisma when you speak (and you do), then you should learn it too.
The secret is to grab IDEAS not sentences—key words and phrases—then share them with the audience. It takes only a second or two to look down, get the next idea, and share that one. There's a world of difference between having a relationship with listeners like this, versus spending most of your time staring down at a page while you speak.
You Can Use Acting Skills to Bring Any Speech to Life
It's said of great actors, that "He or she could read a phone book and it would be fascinating." Substitute any list of endless data (who can find a phone book these days?) and you get the same idea: the relationship with the audience matters more than the raw data.
So you don't need to be 'reading' or 'reciting' a speech to make your material come to life. In fact, if you think that way, what you're saying will never lift off the page. As the same client who confessed to being terrible at reciting a speech said, later in the same session: "You can use acting skills to bring anything to life."
Well, yes! Here's an earlier article of mine that explains this, specifically in terms of how to acquire acting skills for business. And here's a master class in effective body language for performance. The basic idea for the public speaker who wants to use the world's best performance skills (i.e., actors' skills) to thrill an audience is the same whatever material you have before you as a speaker. Like an actor, to bring something to life, you have to live it.
Never try to let your beautifully written notes, outline, manuscript, spreadsheet, graph, handout, or PowerPoint deck do it for you. Those forms are all flat, and composed in the past. In the here-and-now of public performance, it's your job to share the blood racing in your veins with the same substance giving your audience a heartbeat.
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