Should I Read My Speech or Presentation by Peter Dhu

One of the questions I get asked by clients is: should I read my speech or presentation from notes or a script? There is no wrong answer here. It depends on the situation. 

Of course, there are a few occasions when I would recommend reading from your script or notes. But there are also many situations where public speakers don’t need to read their speech or presentation because they are comfortable with their material and confident in their ability to deliver it without notes.

Why do professional public speakers prefer not to read their notes

If you’ve been to a few public presentations, you will notice that most of the public speakers you listen to do not have notes with them. If they do have notes, they don’t read them or refer to them that often. And here are the reasons why:

  1. It makes the presentation more conversational.
    Public speakers want to be seen as conversationalists. If they read from their notes, it would give the impression that they were being told what to do and were simply relaying instructions. 
  2. It helps with engagement.
    Without notes, you are seen as more engaging and present as a speaker. You are able to connect with your audience on a more personal level and you become more effective in delivering your message. You are more present to read the mood of the room and attend to the audience’s needs.
  3. It looks more authentic and genuine
    Authenticity matters when public speaking. Your audience will trust you more if they see you speaking and presenting without notes. It makes your message more genuine. And it shows that you know your content and you believe in what you are saying. Anyone can read from a prepared script, even if they don’t deeply understand the subject.
  4. It allows the speaker to be more attentive to his or her audience.
    Instead of constantly looking down on their notes, professional speakers look at their audience. They are more attentive and can respond to the needs of their audience. Being focused on reading from your script or notes makes it hard to be effective and responsive as a speaker. If you are reading, you will miss the audience’s smiles, frowns, their yawns, and you may miss other important nonverbal cues. Speaking without notes allows you to see these cues and respond and adapt accordingly.

3 Reasons when you may need to read from a script

While it is highly recommended to skip using notes or scripts during public presentations, there are some situations when reading your script or notes can be effective. 

There are three main reasons why you may need to read from a script before speaking or while presenting in the future:

  1. When doing an important speech
    One example of this would be presenting a speech at an ANZAC ceremony. This is an event where it’s important to deliver a specific message and get the information correct. You need to read from the prepared script.
  2. When introducing another speaker
    When you are asked to introduce another speaker, you will need to read their bio word for word as provided to you by the speaker. Speakers and presenters do not want you to adlib or throw in a story when you are introducing them. You need to stick to the prepared bio.
  3. When asked to be an MC (Master of Ceremonies)
    If you are asked to be the MC or facilitate a program, you must follow your notes and timelines. Your responsibility is to keep the program on track and stick to a prepared agenda or schedule. Using your cheat sheet or notes will help you do this.

When you are the speaker at a function or conference, there is no hard and fast rule that says you should or shouldn’t read from your speech. The decision about whether to read from a script or not is one that depends on the situation. As a speaker, you will know what works for you, the type of audience you have in front of you, the importance of your speech, and whether it’s based on detailed facts and figures. In general, the less you can rely on notes, the more confident, informed, credible, and engaging speaker you will be.

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