By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 01-22-2022
Sometimes you just HAVE to read a speech.
I know there's a rule that says a speech should never, ever be read. I don’t know where it’s written. However I’ve heard it repeated frequently enough.
Certainly you’ll not see a person on a TED stage using a teleprompter to deliver their speech.
Chris Anderson, TED's leader and founder is quite clear.
”Don’t read it, and don’t use a teleprompter. It’s usually just too distancing—people will know you’re reading. And as soon as they sense it, the way they receive your talk will shift. Suddenly your intimate connection evaporates, and everything feels a lot more formal. We generally outlaw reading approaches of any kind at TED...” Harvard Business Review – How to give a killer presentation - Lessons from TED by Chris Anderson (2013)
And when I was a member of the international public speaking organization Toastmasters, I discovered they actively discouraged it too for similar reasons.
- Sources of resources for reading aloud practice
However sometimes you just have to read your speech.
In situations like these how can a speaker maintain energy and audience connection while reading?
frequently happens when someone reads from a manuscript is not engaging. The speaker is head down looking
at the words and the delivery is flat and stilted. Even if the
content is really interesting it rapidly becomes a challenge to
maintain focus and listen.
Reading aloud well is a skill and like all skills you can acquire it with consistent practice.
I've highlighted two essential elements you'll want to focus on to become competent. These are 5 aspects of good vocal delivery, and the See-Stop-Say technique for ensuring you establish and maintain a connection with your audience while reading.
For both you’ll need a variety of texts, extracts from; non-fiction: newspaper articles, magazine reports, academic papers, famous speeches, and fiction: children's stories, a short story, a poem or an extract from a novel, to work with.
The pieces need to be long enough to practice shaping your delivery to fit the material, the audience and your purpose.* About two minutes worth is generally enough.
Recording yourself will help you identify what you've done well and where you need to focus extra effort.
*Different text types, different audiences and different purposes require you to read differently. Eg. As a professional you wouldn't read an extract from an academic paper to your colleagues at a conference as if it were a piece from a Dr Seuss children's story, even though it might be amusing!☺
Here are five key aspects of good vocal delivery to listen out for when you play back your recording:
This is a three part method for reading aloud from a manuscript Ronald Reagan first learned as an actor, and then used for his campaign and presidential speeches.
And now return to the beginning and repeat the sequence as many times as needed. Once you've mastered this technique the awkward head-down-reading, lack-of-eye-contact-with-your-audience problem will have vanished.
For more please see public speaking coach Maria Guida’s excellent article outlining how to learn it step by step: The Ronald Reagan Technique: How to Sound Natural While Reading Prepared Text
Use these tips to format the text on the page for printing to make it easy to read at a glance.
Use these tips to mark up your script. The marks are reminders, a bit like the driving instruction signs we have on roads that tell us where to slow down, where to be extra vigilant, and so on.
As you practice you'll become aware of what specific reminders you need to ensure you read as well as you can, and where you need to mark them on your script.
Devise your own marks (short hand code) and use them consistently so that you'll recognize it and know immediately what they're reminding you to do.
For example, slow down could be a line under the words you want to say slowly like this: slow down.
Words you want to stress may have a streak of yellow highlight through them.
Words requiring careful precise pronunciation may be in italics.
A pause for dramatic effect or to allow the audience time to take something in could be shown as a slash highlighted with pink like this: /
A breath might be a symbol like this: ^ and a reminder to check in with the audience to see how they're receiving what you're giving them could be CHECK written in the margin.
than trying to hold the manuscript while you read it, put it on a lectern.
This eliminates the temptation to mask your face with it and, to rattle its pages. It also leaves you free to gesture.
sure you have the lectern placed a little to one side to avoid creating a
visual barrier between yourself and the audience.
Also check that it's the right height before you begin. You need to be able to comfortably read your script without bending too far down because it's too low for you.
Practice using it. Place your script slightly to the right of the middle. As you finish a page, turn it over face down, and put it on your left. That way you will always have the right page in front of you.
If it’s at all possible, make time to run through the script aloud. If it contains surprises, you'll want to find them before you share them with your audience.
Practice will also give you a chance to gauge timing, sort out the pronunciation of any unfamiliar words, get a handle on the phrasing and vocal variety needs.
Even if you've written the speech yourself, please don't assume it will be fine out loud. It seldom works like that. How we write for the page is very different from writing oral language; words intended to be heard rather than read.*
Say the text over out loud as many times as you can. Reading silently to yourself is not enough.
A 'cold' reading, one without any practice, or without seeing the script before it is handed to you, is very hard to pull off, even for someone accustomed to reading aloud. It’s to be avoided, where ever possible.
Here's a source of Read-Alouds From The New York Times first published in 2010. It was so popular it's been updated since. You'll find all sorts of different types of fascinating material to practice with: the kind that should be marked with a cautionary warning: Time Sink Ahead! Be prepared to lose hours at a stretch.
*For more about writing oral language. You'll find an infographic covering the characteristics of oral language here: how to write a speech.
And if you do read your speech, and you do it well, know you’re in good company.
Many of the world’s greatest public speakers have read their speeches: Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. For more: lessons from 15 great orators.
Lastly, do make time to watch at least the stunning reading of Sojourner Truth's 1851 speech 'Ain't I a woman?' by writer Alice Walker from this collection of: History’s Most Powerful Speeches Given By Women. It's a masterclass!
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