How to (not) write a great presentation script, part two

By Dr Simon Raybould of Curved Vision

In this second part of Dr Simon Raybould’s article, he shares his tried-and-tested techniques for rehearsing and refining your presentation after you’ve compiled its content…

If you missed last week’s part one of Dr Simon Raybould’s article, you can catch up with it here

Once you’ve done all you can this way, stand up, clear the room and physically deliver your presentation out loud. Present to the cat if you must, but present it out loud. I’ll say that again for impact… physically deliver your script out loud, as though you were delivering it. That way you do two things.

Firstly you discover more and more things about your script that don’t work orally. Change them.

Secondly you become more and more familiar with the material and as such you’re in a better position to start a bit of paraphrasing. Let it happen.  Don’t force it, just let it happen naturally.

(Note from Suze: it’s also helpful to run an audio recording of your out-loud presentation practice and play it back … helps pick up any stray goofs!)

Caution! You’ll need to deliver over and over to the empty room so be careful that you take lots of breaks to keep yourself fresh. There’s a risk as you do this that you become familiar with the sound of your own voice as it says certain things and begin to think they actually sound natural – when to anyone else they are about as organic as rusty tin.

The old adage of ‘practice makes perfect’ is rubbish. What practice actually makes is permanent!

If you can face it, use a highlighter on your script to pick out the key words that you are now beginning to improvise around. Use some common sense and take out more and more of the script so that you’re left relying only on the key words and the amount of time you spend reading your script reduces gradually until you’re simply glancing down at the highlighted keywords. Cross out the rest.

Seriously, cross it out. Otherwise you’ll be tempted to read it. Force yourself to move from the words on the page to the keywords only. If you don’t believe me, ask any actor how hard it is not to read a script in rehearsal when they’re rehearsing with the script in their hands ‘just in case’…

Now comes the scary part… put the key words you’ve got left onto index cards and ditch the script. If you’ve got a script in your hand you’ll fall back on it because you can.  Don’t. Shred it if you dare and then you’ve got no choice but to use the index cards when it comes to The Big Day.

Personally I use cards which are five inches by three inches because they sit nicely into my hand with my fingers barely curled, so that I can move and gesticulate as normal – your hands will be a different size to mine, so test it, test it test it!

One last word of advice… when your keywords are on index cards, practice with them until you’re familiar with the feel of them and (very importantly!) put a hole in the top left hand corner with a treasury tag through it.

Believe me, if you’ve ever dropped your index cards you’ll thank me for that last tip!  😀

I know this feels like a clumsy movement away from the written word (and it is, compared to starting with the spoken word) but trust me, you’ll thank me for it when you’re live!

If you missed last week’s part one of Dr Simon Raybould’s article, you can catch up with it here. In the meantime, many thanks once again to Simon for his great advice.

Dr Simon Raybould’s career started in research (into the cause of childhood cancer). He’s now one of the UK’s leading presentation skills trainers. He’s also in demand as a conference speaker, specializing in personal resilience, stress and confidence.

More help with writing about yourself:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

How to (not) write a great presentation script, part one

By Dr Simon Raybould of Curved Vision

Many thanks to one of my favorite experts on presentation skills for sharing his brilliant advice with us here…

I’d like to start with a summary of what I’m going to say – and this has got to be the easiest blog topic to summarize I’ve had to tackle in a long, long time.  Of course, the hard part is how to actually carry out what’s in the summary… but the summary itself is simple!

The key thing you need to look out for (and avoid) when you’re writing a presentation script is this: it mustn’t sound like you wrote a script.

See?  Told you it was easy!

The thing is, for the vast majority of us, we write in a different ‘voice’ to how we speak. We use different words, different patterns and different levels of formality: we tend to move towards the formal in the written word.

Let’s take that last bit as an example “we tend move towards the formal in the written word”.  I wrote it like that because that’s how I write (unless I’m making a conscious effort not to). If I was talking to you in a pub, in a cafe or from a stage in a presentation however, I’d probably say something more like “When we write stuff down, most of us get a bit more formal”. It means the same thing, it’s just a more relaxed way of phrasing it.

With the exception of (good) speechwriters, writing something so that it sounds exactly as we’d say it is very tricky. Very tricky indeed… which is why good speech-writers are well paid, I’d say! (Note from Suze: you’re right about the first part, Simon; I just wish you were right about the second part, too!)

No matter how well you deliver a written speech it’s still going to sound like a written speech and as such it’s not going to engage with your audience so well. People don’t like to ‘receive’ – they prefer to ‘be engaged with’ – and that means that for maximum effect on your audience you need to sound like you’re relaxed and speaking to them personally. How can you do that from a script?

So what can you do about it?

Personally, my preferred option is to know my subject area so well that I don’t write a formal speech. I start with the oral presentation in my head and so I use one of the many (seriously, there are lots!) of tools for defining structure and then work from that in defined steps until I’m on stage. I’m not going into detail about how to do that because I’m assuming that if you’re reading Suze’s blog you’re more of a writer than a speaker and this is a speaker’s approach, not a writers – in fact it probably doesn’t even make sense to a writer! 🙂

The alternative is approach is to start with your speech, written as you would write it and then work on that to make it sound more natural when you deliver it orally. It’s a different mindset but hopefully it can get you to the same point!

Now, obviously, you can do at least some of this work on your script by reading what you’ve written and (with your hand on your heart) asking yourself if you can re-word it to sound more natural when it’s spoken out loud. I suggest you have a go at this before you use any tricks below because it helps… but it’s not enough.

Find out what more you need to do in part two of Dr Simon Raybould’s “How to (not) write a great presentation script” – here on HowToWriteBetter next week!

Dr Simon Raybould’s career started in research (into the cause of childhood cancer). He’s now one of the UK’s leading presentation skills trainers. He’s also in demand as a conference speaker, specializing in personal resilience, stress and confidence.

Want some more help with presentation scripts etc.?

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

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