by Steve Adubato, PhD

There are millions of professionals who are currently obsessing over their next public presentation. I know because I have coached hundreds of these people who "prepare" to speak in public in all the wrong ways. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to convince themselves they have to write out their presentation and read it verbatim when the time comes to stand and deliver. They write and rewrite and go through the painstaking process of trying to read their presentation and fake eye contact with their audience. They use either index cards and cram lots of information on each one, or, they write their speech out on individual sheets of paper.

Yet, it is the rare public speaker that can deliver an effective presentation from a prepared text. (I.e., Mario Cuomo at the 1984 Democratic National Convention.) When speakers see a presentation as nothing more than simply an opportunity to transfer information, rarely does anything good happen. Whether it is a commencement speech, a CEO's presentation at an annual shareholders meeting or a principal talking with parents, the communication bar must be raised.

As soon as you agree to speak in front of others, your goal is to make a human, personal connection, and it's hard to do that when your eyes are down on a piece of paper or focused on keeping your index cards in order. Yet, when you ask professionals who insist on reading their presentations why they do it, here are some of the things they say:

  • "I read my speeches because it is the only way I can get through it. I've been doing it this way for years. "
  • "It's a FORMAL presentation, therefore, I read my speeches because I don't want to leave anything out."
  • Or, my personal favorite, "I read because I'm afraid I will lose my place if I don't."

I understand people's fears of letting go of a script. This fear is largely about the unknown or a mindset that says I will fall on my face if I try it any other way. But here are some things to consider:

  • Letting go of your prepared text doesn't mean speaking extemporaneously. If you take your script and create a bullet-point outline with key words, phrases, names or numbers, (in BOLD type with lots of white space) you will be amazed at how helpful this approach can be.
  • Realize that anything that creates a barrier between you and your audience is a problem, and lack of eye contact is a big barrier. The only way to connect with your audience visually is to glance down at your outline, see a key bullet point and then talk directly to the audience. (You can't do this if you are reading verbatim.)
  • The outline approach allows you to be a lot more conversational than reading off a script. It will free you from the mechanics of reading and allow the words to flow more comfortably, both for you and your audience.
  • As for the fear of leaving things out, remember, your audience has no idea what is supposed to be in your speech. People don't judge you based on how much information you give them. Rather, they are just looking to get some relevant information that can help them in some meaningful way. Further, they need to believe that you believe in what you are saying. They are a lot more likely to do that when your goal is more about sharing information as opposed to simply getting through your presentation.

Write to me about how you deliver your presentations and any tips or advice you would like to share with others.