There is no single decisive method for preparing for a speech.
However, some methods are more effective than others. I’ve listed the 4 most common ways of learning a speech, in reverse order of effectiveness, and then the method that we would recommend.
Who needs practice when you’ve got confidence on your side? Unless you are the leading expert in your field, and so good at public speaking that Richard Branson falls to his knees at the mere mention of your name, leave full improv to the professionals.
Whether you have the entire script in front of you, or just a few flashcards, reading something you’ve written is probably the most comfortable way of delivering a speech. However, if you’re reading a text word-for-word, you will not be connecting with your audience at all.
Having a few words written down as prompts can be helpful, but I would not recommend reading a speech directly off the page.Chances are you’ve watched some TED videos. Did any of those speakers have a script in front of them? Did any of them even have flashcards? Having seen a fair amount of TED videos, I can’t think of a single one where the speaker was looking down or checking papers.
You know the basic outline of your speech. You have practiced delivering it a million times, and every time was different. Your delivery is always natural, because although you have an idea of what you want to say next, there’s every chance you’ll express this thought in an entirely new way.
If you’re a nervous speaker, this method is a bad idea. You don’t know what you’re going to say, there is no comfort blanket to fall back on. Even if you are a confident speaker, you may forget to state an idea or make a point you liked, because there is not a set structure to your speech.
Also, it may be that, with no set script to work from, you have a flash of inspiration and decide you want to express an idea you’re not entirely secure with. Here, you end up dangerously near the ‘bluffing it’ category, which, whilst great for Q&A sessions, doesn’t work well for the keynote speech, which should focus on researched ideas and theories.
It’s a classic method, but a good one. You write a speech. You learn it so well that you could say it half-asleep. Every word is a carefully crafted masterpiece.
This method is great for if you’re a particularly nervous speaker; knowing the speech back to front is confidence building, and if things go truly terribly, you can go into autopilot, as opposed to falling apart completely. There are some great tips here on memorising a speech, and it can be a relatively easy method of delivery.
The issue with this method is making it sound natural. We speak in a different cadence than we write, so be flexible. If something doesn’t sound right, don’t just try to practice until it does; work around it, say different permutations of the same sentence until you find one that sounds like something you would genuinely say.
Along with sounding unnatural, it can also end up sounding quite monotonous. If you just recite your speech, it’s not going to engage well with the audience; imagine an actor learning his lines, but not bothering to deliver them with any gusto. Public speaking is a performance; learning your speech word for word will not guarantee good delivery.
How You Should Be Preparing
This method, discussed here by Tim Ferriss, combines both the practiced speech and the memorised speech. You practice delivering each segment of a speech that you know the bare bones of. After running through a segment, write down the sentences you liked, and try to incorporate them into the next run-through. Doing this every time, you should eventually come to a speech that incorporates the best of your improvised performances. The phrasings will sound more natural than a speech that originated on the page, but you can still have the comfort of knowing most of what you want to say.
The drawbacks in this method are that you’re still, to an extent, memorising your speech. Whilst you shouldn’t know it word for word, a lot of the content will be phrases you’ve memorised. As it originated as an improvised piece before you wrote it down, it should sound more natural, but if you’re reciting it monotonously, it’s still going to fall flat.
Do You Agree? How do you prepare for a speech?
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