Trust Your Knowledge and Ditch the Prepared Text

We usually encourage our clients to ditch the prepared text when giving speeches. In our experience, most presenters do a better job of engaging their audience when they prepare well, then trust their knowledge and leave the notes behind.

And here’s a recent speech that illustrates our point—a landmark address from British Prime Minister Theresa May about her country’s plans to negotiate the “Brexit” with the European Union.

This was a huge speech with major implications for the citizens of the UK. Two years after the country had voted to break away from the European Union, the prime minister was finally ready to share her plan for the coming negotiations to make it happen. Media were assembled, people were watching. The futures of the UK and the EU were both on the line. This was exciting stuff!

Ms. May spoke for about an hour, spending most of her time reading a prepared and well-rehearsed speech from a fancy binder. The speech was clear and organized, and she enunciated her words well. But her presentation was dull. She moved her head only to look down at her text, her hands and arms remained out of sight below the podium, her intonation followed a repetitive rhythm that made it easy to tune out, and she trailed off at the end of sentences.

Though she used forceful phrasing, saying things like: “We are living through an important moment in our country’s history,” the energy of her presentation didn’t reflect her words.

But after delivering a 43-minute formal speech, she came to life and transformed into a much more interesting speaker. What changed? She began taking questions from the audience. And POOF…she instantly became more energetic and engaging, moving her body, making bigger gestures, changing her facial expressions (she even smiled!) and sounding more emphatic and confident.

Without notes, she occasionally fumbled with non-words and sounded just a bit choppy, but her dramatic increase of energy more than compensated for any minor flaws. She varied her intonation and volume, and added more punch at the end of sentences. Since she didn’t have to look down at her notes, she made much stronger eye connection with her audience. She became more animated and more dynamic, helping her come across like a more confident leader.

When you’re asked to speak on a topic that reflects your area of expertise, the audience assumes you know your stuff and should be comfortable talking about it. Reading prepared text, no matter how well the words are crafted, just doesn’t create the same perception as looking them in the eye and speaking from the heart.

Our recommendation? Plan your content as if you’re preparing for Q&A—brainstorm questions this audience will want to have answered, and come up with others they might not have considered. Put the questions in the same logical order you’d use to craft your speech, and practice delivering your responses as if someone just posed the question. To help you stay focused, create simple bullet-pointed notes you can glance at to make sure you don’t forget to deliver an important point.

Watch a few minutes of Ms. May speaking from her prepared text by clicking here, then forward to about the 43:30 mark when she begins to take questions. Notice how much more comfortable, believable and confident she looks.

Try it yourself and we predict you’ll have similar results!

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