Speeches and presentations: scripted or seat of the pants?

medium_2075045856 (1)Having written literally thousands of speeches for clients over many years, I firmly believe in the discipline scripts provide so that from there, you make a natural yet well structured presentation.

Many others, including experts like my dear friend, presentation training supremo Simon Raybould, would not necessarily agree. But let’s get something straight here.

Making presentations on the basis of “the seat of your pants” works for speakers who know their material backwards, forwards, sideways and up and down their various orifices. If on the other hand you are not one of these incredibly talented (usually professional) speakers, you need some help.

Writing a script does not mean you have to read it out

In some cases you might choose to read your script out and – especially if you are new to public speaking, no-one is going to slap your wrist for doing that.

In another case, your scripted speech may have to go on to an autoprompt system. These devices allow you to read you words via one-way glass screens screwed to the lectern from which you deliver the speech. You will have seen these in countless political TV presentations and other big-deal corporate events.

Assuming your speech or presentation is not delivered at the White House in Washington DC or at the London Lord Mayor’s dinner, nonetheless you may have the opportunity to use a teleprompter or autocue device to tell you what you should be saying.

Trust me, these devices may look terrifying at first glance but they are an absolute Godsend for anyone who needs to read out their speech, or more to the point, needs to be reminded of the speech they should be delivering.

What if there isn’t an “autocue” available?

Don’t panic. If you know your stuff, you don’t really need one. Bear in mind that one of the main reasons why conference producers and organizers want speakers to provide scripts to which they adhere on the autoprompt system is not because they want to help you.

It is because they want to help themselves to make sure everything runs more or less to time and by strapping you up to your pre-entered speech, they can time you to the nano-second.

In fairness to conference and other event organizers though, you do need to make sure that your material runs roughly to your time slot no matter how off-the-wall it might be.

Can you go “off script?”

Well, you can if you want to … but don’t forget that if you deviate from your initial script on the teleprompter and continue talking, you may well go on to pre-empt what you have already written into your material that’s coming up on the screen before you.

Result? You find yourself having to scroll through your scripted speech because you realise you’ve already covered a number of points you hadn’t really meant to!

This is a danger you really do have to avoid, especially if you are presenting at an event where you are not directly controlling the teleprompter and/or visual aids.

Anyway, so why write a script?

Because by writing a script you are setting into your mind the mental floorplan of your presentation.

When it comes to delivering it on the day, you may well vary away from the original words you crafted, according to how you feel, what you think the audience expects, and what feedback you may already have had from them.

But overall your written version of what you feel you should  say, gives you a solid platform on which to build the actual, bespoke presentation you produce at the end of the day.

So how do I use the script?

You use the script to provide you with the following:

  • A floorplan of your presentation: just by writing it all out in detail, you’ll be half-way to learning it and understanding how it will resonate with your audience
  • A foundation for learning your material: the more you write it out, the more you commit it to memory
  • A basis from which you can develop cue cards, bullet points etc., which you can use a cues if you need them when delivering the presentation or speech

And how do I go about writing a good script?

There’s too much to it to itemize here, but check out my eBook “Super Speeches” as it shares everything you need to know to ensure that whatever presentation you want to make, you do it superbly well.

Happy speech making!

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family…

photo credit: ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓ via photopin cc




  1. Mike O'Keefe says

    Hi Suzan,
    You’ve raised some great points here and I have definitely come across and fallen into a couple of the traps that you have mentioned. I personally struggle to be controlled by the restraints of a script and would prefer to have a list of prompts or bullet points and then ‘fly by the seat of my pants’. I totally understand that a number of people feel comfortable and possibly even more confident using scripts but they’re not for me personally but as I say, I can see a lot of value in it for some people.
    Speak soon,

    • Thanks for that, Mike. As I suggest in the article, one of the main purposes of writing a script is to implant the content in your mind … a bit like creating “muscle memory” for the brain! That’s what I find for myself, anyway. The act of creating a structure and then the script from that is my way of practising and rehearsing, although usually I will talk around my own script rather than adhere to it word for word.

      But everyone is different, and it has to be “horses for courses.”


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