In Speechwriting, How Prepared is Too Prepared?

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A pair of recent articles, one in Northern Nevada Business Weekly and the other in The Washington Post, analyze the pros and cons of scripted public speaking versus a more improvised, extemporaneous style.

In the first, author John Seelmeyer writes that more and more business executives are outlining oral presentations instead of writing them out word-for-word:

“And for better or for worse, the widespread use of PowerPoint to provide an outline for speakers and their audience alike reduces the need for speakers to rely on word-for-word prepared speeches… One upshot may be a subtle change in the skills required for top executives.

It’s less important these days for top executives to create a commanding performance with a prepared speech… and more important that their stage presence reflects their personality.”

In the Washington Post, blogger Chris Cillizza explores Republican criticisms of President Obama’s use of the TelePrompTer. Last weekend presidential candidate Rick Santorum took the criticisms farther than ever before, saying the device should be illegal for presidential candidates to use (We examined the topic in our recent post, “The War on TelePrompTers Heats up”).

To some, Cillizza writes, the TelePrompTer embodies everything that’s wrong with Obama: Instead of speaking candidly, he merely reads words written and prepared by his staff at all public appearances. The logical conclusion drawn from such actions is that the President is disingenuous, merely paying lip-service to his audiences.

Ideally, all speakers would be able to use little to no scripted words when speaking in public. Their message would be genuine enough that no rehearsal would be necessary to express it. However, the ability to captivate an audience with extemporaneous speech also encapsulates speaking skills that have little to do with personality, intelligence or sincerity. The fact is, some people are good talkers, and some need extra help to maintain an audience’s attention.

The teleprompter and prepared text significantly help a speaker deliver a clear, well-paced message. While there is a danger in coming off overly rehearsed, a strong delivery can mitigate that perception. Every speaker should find his or her comfort zone to allow for the best possible result. Regardless of where that comfort zone lies, he or she should play an active role in crafting the message because critics will invariably test what they view as insincere.

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