Here’s the thing: people can tell when you are reading.
I should caveat that with: people can tell when you are reading unless you have done the work to be sure you don’t sound like you are reading.
My personal preference is that you should go without a script where you can, but the reality is that you will be reading a script at some point.
So if you are going to read from a script – how do you sound like you are talking rather than reading??
- Check the Words
This is key to it sounding like you aren’t reading. The aim for all presenting is that you sound like you’re talking to your audience as if you were in the pub plus 10%. The language you use to write is significantly different to the spoken word.
When we write we use lots of words we don’t need. When we speak we get to the point quicker. We also write in the first person (I / we went to the pub) or the third person (she went to the pub). We we speak we use the first and second person (you).
When you write you tend to put descriptions up front and the subject last. When speaking the subject goes up front and then you may add some description after.
Written: However, this week the dynamic and hairy lead singer of the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl, did go to the post office
Spoken: “Dave Grohl, the lead singer of the Foo Fighters, went to the post office this week – which was surprising…”
It is worth going through your script and checking that it reads in a way that you would actually talk.
2. Read, Read, and Read Again
Chris Anderson says in his book “TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking” that most TED speakers write then memorise their talks. The rehearsal process of repetition makes it sound like you are speaking. And this is the case for those that purely rehearse rather than script too.
You will need to read a script at least 5 or 6 times before it sounds like it has become part of your spoken word.
3. Work Out Your Emphasis and Intonation
With reading written word, ironically, you need to put the natural emphasis and intonation back in. When I played the flute in orchestras we were regularly making notes all over our music, and for reading the written word, you need to do the same.
There is a fantastic technique called The Hudson Voice Technique, developed by the BBC voice over artist Steve Hudson. His technique includes two elements you can use really easily.
Firstly, pause at the end of your sentences (and even more so at the end of your points) and energise the beginning of the next sentence (point).
Secondly, mentally break the script up beyond the punctuation. In a sentence you are likely to find a bit of a natural lull every 3 to 4 words, then get your pencil and draw a line in hose breaks. This will help you slow up your reading so you are not racing ahead, and it will get you to think about where the emphasis is in a sentence.
Mostly, you need to find your natural voice rather than your natural voice, and to do that you can watch my video about finding your authentic voice here: https://youtu.be/ltnQy744B9g
In summary the pros of scripting is that you can remember what you are going to say, you can shorten your prep, and you can even delegate the writing part.
I wanted to leave you with this. I used to think that no script for speaking in public was the thing to aim for. Then I saw this great performance from Richard Huntington at Next Radio in 2016 https://youtu.be/8UIVpD5V0Xs and his energy made me wonder if you could do great presenting with a script in your hand.
“Just be yourself” is the ultimate in advice when it comes to presenting.
What happens when you know you need your message to be heard, but your authentic self is to be introverted and softly spoken?
What if you are presenting on a music station, and you are a massive sports fan?
What if you are presenting to the board? Do they really want to know that you struggled to find a clean pair of pants this morning?
Being advised to be authentic can open a can of worms, but the desire from audiences for “real people” is not going away. The popularity of TV shows like Love Island and Big Brother show this. The rise of the internet broadcaster (You Tubers / Influencers) is rooted in the sort of authenticity that is lost in the linear broadcasting of Radio or TV.
There are things I regularly talk to my clients about with how to deal this…
1) Be clear on “you”
During your show/presentation prep, write down the 5-10 things you know to be true about you. These are things you love, things you hate, things you are passionate about. These are the things that make you you, and make you human, and they can inform and appear in your content. You can also ask yourself “what are the things I know to be true about the topic I am presenting about?”
Example: I am a massive learner, and I love stories, so my presentations always include something I have learned from an experience, or from someone else.
2) Be clear on who you are speaking to
Engaging an audience is as much about understanding them as it is about understanding you. I know it’s not easy to read people’s minds but you can make a few assumptions. They are of course human (refer to point one). But if it is the board you are speaking to the board, you will have to work out what it is they will be expecting and align yourself with that.
3) Don’t Shoe Horn
Being authentic means being authentic. If you are trying to be authentic for authentic’s sake you won’t get the response that you desire from the audience. Make sure your content, and your stories, fit with what you are talking about. If you are doing a formal presentation, like reading the news, or presenting to the board, there will be opportunities for some personality to come out.
There is a growing trend to admit your imperfections at the moment, it’s a really effective way to engage the audience, and “be authentic”. See the popularity of online sites like The Midult. Self-deprecation, and admissions of your flaws is a guaranteed way to connect with your audience.
But this can be confused with what it is to be authentic, and sometimes too much self deprecation sounds insincere and needy. If you are on stage, screen or on air, you still need to hold your authority.
Positive reflection, observation and aspiration are all still engaging factors. For example, if I am in my true authentic space, there are parts of me that are obsessed with podcasts, self development, CrossFit and I am a bit of a show off. If I was worried about imperfections only, I wouldn’t share some of the more positive, enthusiastic elements of myself. And nothing is more engaging than enthusiasm.
5) Don’t get Stuck In Detail
The thing about authenticity in presentations is that you often don’t have enough time to tell the full story as it happened, with the nuances that went with it. Also getting lost in detail, can lose your audience.
I would love to tell you in detail about the time that I lost a friend’s kid (I did) but I only have a few minutes to do so. So when I tell the story I pull out what I call “the story beats”. These are the most important parts of the story. The bits I remember most: the hideous call to her parents to tell them she’d vanished, the moment we found her, the moment I turned around and she wasn’t there, the fact we were in a huge park, and that the minutes felt like hours. When those beats are put in the right order, I have definitely turned a long story short, and I can add the detail where I need to.
Authentic presenting is about taking all the parts of you and working out which ones will work with the audience you are talking to and the environment you are working in. It is not about baring your soul to everyone, in depth.