Should we still “write” business presentations, or go more ad lib?

Have you ever been on a public speaking or presentation course? I just got back from “Dynamic Delivery” with the one and only Ali Moore, and what a fab day it was. Despite having written scripts for countless speakers over the years, when I get up there myself I can get a little tongue-tied. But not any more.

Article about making presentations

Whichever approach you choose, good preparation is key to a great presentation

There is no magic formula for good public speaking

One of the main takeout points of the day for me, is that there are far fewer rules and rigidly-followed customs in good public speaking now, than there were 20 years ago. In fact to get up and speak to an audience, these days, while seeming to be reading from a script, is often seen as an amateurish no-no.

Many public speaking courses encourage you to get up there and speak from memory, maybe with a couple of cue cards or a few words written in ballpoint pen on your hand, to keep you either from drying up (common if you’re a little shy) or droning on ad nauseam (common if you’re the chatty type who isn’t worried by standing up and talking.)

The beauty of Ali’s wisdom, however, is that either way – any way – is OK as long as it works for you, and as long as you prepare your content properly: how to do this is a key part of her workshop.

So should we write out what we want to say?

My days as a conference producer and scriptwriter still feature prominently in my little toolbag of writing tricks. Why?

Selfish reasons, really. If I have to make a presentation I know at what speed I speak, so can write to that length, say it, and finish bang on time.

How to judge rough timings by word count: most people speak at between 120 and 175 words per minute. Assess your own speed accordingly, then divide the number of words in your draft speech by that number. Result? The approximate number of minutes you’ll take to deliver it. It works.

I astonished a group of regional NHS (UK’s National Health Service) cancer professionals at a conference one time when everyone else – especially the medics – gave wandering, timeless speeches that drifted on forever.

As a patient representative and keynote speaker, I didn’t. That’s because I had written my presentation out to the right word count for the time slot.

And I had to smile smugly when the conference “timer” (sitting at the front warning speakers that they were approaching their time-up) flashed up a card that said “30 seconds” just as I closed with my finishing line.

You may write it out to start with, but you don’t have to read it verbatim

Here’s where my views with those of my friend Simon Raybould a.k.a. the Presentation Genius diverge a little.

Simon’s view in the past has been that you should write out the introduction, and the wind-up and leave the bits in the middle to take care of themselves.

That makes a lot of sense. And he’s so right when he says you don’t need to read it verbatim. Unless you’re a politician who hasn’t time to rehearse and relies on teleprompters, if you know your topic well enough you should be able to ad lib through the content which makes it sound more natural and fluent.

But wait a minute. There are two things to be considered here about writing out your whole speech or presentation.

Article about whether or not to script your presentations and public speaking

A politician who hasn’t time to rehearse and relies on teleprompters…

One, there is the indisputable common sense of doing it to make sure it runs to time: see above.

Two, there is the benefit of writing it to commit it to your brain

You may recall that in a recent article on here about handwriting, we talked about how that can improve your retention and learning of information if you write it down by hand rather than type it out on a keyboard, phone/tablet screen, etc.

Now of course I’m not suggesting that you write out a 20 minute speech all by hand unless you really want to (that’s roughly 3,000 words. Ouch.)

But if handwriting is the best way to implant content into your brain, writing it into a machine has to come second. The more you familiarise yourself with your content the better prepared you will be and the better you will deliver it: typing it into that machine is a reasonable alternative to scribbling it with a pen.

To put it another way, IMHO writing out your speech or presentation is better than “busking it,” even though you will go on to rehearse it without reading it and ultimately deliver it “in your own words.” It’s not the reading of the words that’s at issue: it’s the absorption of those words into your mind (by writing and rehearsing them) that forms the best kind of preparation – for a great speech or presentation.

What do you think is the best way to write – or not – speeches and presentations?

Please share in the comments!

Bemoore Reconnection

Ali Moore

(If you’re in the south-east Midlands of England, try if you can to catch one of Ali Moore’s brilliant Dynamic Delivery workshops. What Ali teaches you is absolutely perfect for today’s business speaking expectations, in a four hour intensive session. And no, I don’t get commission for singing its praises!)

Credit for top image: many thanks to D.L. Hinton