In this episode of The Introverted Speaker Show, I’m answering a question that several subscribers asked me: “when you’re speaking in public, is it OK to read your text aloud?” That’s a point where I disagree with most other public speaking experts.
I’m also introducing you to the 3 laws of non-robotic reading.
Hello, and welcome to The Introverted Speaker Show!
In this episode, I’m going to address a question that several subscribers to my mailing list on TheIntrovertedSpeaker.com asked me: when you’re speaking in public, is it OK to read your text aloud?
Well, first, let me tell you that’s a point on which I disagree with a ton, if not most, of the other public speaking experts. Most of them will tell you “Oh, no! You shouldn’t read your text! That’s bad!” That’s what most so-called gurus will tell you.
And they are wrong.
I mean, what do you think somebody like Trump does when he gives a speech? He reads it! And he’s not the only one. Most politicians, all over the world, read their speeches! And not only politician, but take top-level executives. Take a guy like Buffett. Warren Buffett. He’s one of the richest guys in the world, and not a long time ago he was the richest. And Buffett knows public speaking is very important. He even admitted he lost tons of money for not being good enough at public speaking at the beginning of his career. Because he’s an introvert, and he thought introverts can’t be good at public speaking. Which is obviously wrong.
And, what do you think Buffet does when he’s speaking to his shareholders? Do you think he prepares nothing and improvises a speech? No! He’s reading a sheet of paper! But I could also talk about journalists. On TV. Or, on the radio. Journalists don’t improvise from a canvas when they give you the news. Their read a teleprompter, or a piece of paper. Yes, some of the most important, some of the most successful public speakers, those with the biggest audiences, almost all of them read a pre-written text. And yet, there are tons of so-called gurus who actually teach you that you should never do that. That you should never read. That you should never do what successful speakers do.
Isn’t that crazy?
Well, I definitely disagree with them. I think the reality is much more nuanced. I think it depends a lot on the context, the type of speaking event, on your personality too, and on your abilities. So I’ll detail all of that today. I’ll even give you the 3 laws of non-robotic reading, that you will have to follow if you want to follow this road.
OK, first things first, let’s talk about delivery. Basically, when you are asked to speak in public, you have 4 ways to deliver your content.
The Impromptu Speech
The first one, is to improvise it completely. The so-called impromptu speech.
You are given a theme, a topic, at the very last moment, and you have to talk about it for several minutes without any preparation time. This is a very stressful moment for a lot of speakers, and usually it does not produce the most memorable speeches. Although there are exceptions. And I’ll dedicate a whole episode of the show to this concept of impromptu speeches. But, just remember this is not just a curiosity. Sometimes, you have to speak with very little preparation time, and this is something you have to master. I talked about the elevator pitch in a previous episode of the show for instance.
Speak From A Canvas
The second way to deliver content when you speak in public, is to speak from a canvas.
This is probably the most common technique.
So, basically, you know what you’re going to talk about, you know that in part 1 you’re going to talk about this, then in part 2 talk about that, then part 3 will be about that and you’ll eventually conclude with that. You know what you will say, but you don’t know the exact words you’ll be using.
Most presentations, I mean powerpoint presentations, are done this way. If you give the same presentation twice in a row, you’ll have the exact same structure, but you won’t use the same words twice. And that’s a very good way to work, because it makes the speaker sound very conversational, very natural. And of course it is. Because he is naturally speaking. And that’s the reason why beginners are usually told to do it that way.
Learning The Whole Text
The third method is to deliver a precise, memorized text.
So, you wrote your content, your exact speech, and you learned that text, word by word. So, if you memorized your speech that way and give the same presentation twice in a row, you’ll say the exact same words in the exact same order twice, obviously. Some speakers prefer this method, because just the idea of having to improvise anything makes them very uncomfortable. Personally, I hate this method and I never use it.
Reading A Script
And, finally, the fourth and last way to deliver is to read a pre-written text.
It’s just like when you try to memorize it, only this time you… well, you don’t memorize it. So, you write the text, and then you read it on stage. In front of the audience. And this is the method that is usually frowned upon.
Most public speaking gurus will tell you this is bad, and this is the worse you can do. Some public speaking experts will tell you memorizing is okay, others will tell you it’s unacceptable and the only one true way is to improvise from a canvas, what I called the second way to deliver a few minutes ago. But most of them will tell you it’s unacceptable to read from a paper, that it’s bad practice. And, as I told you at the beginning of this episode, in my highly-opiniated opinion, they are all wrong.
They are wrong because, as I already said, some of the best public speakers actually do this. They read their content.
Politicians. Any important politician, from any country. Do you think they work from a canvas? Do you think they made an outline for their speech, and then the rehearse it several times, for hours and hours, and then they deliver it on stage? No! Do you think they write a speech they then spend hours and hours trying to memorize exactly? No! Of course not. They have no time for that. They have a pre-written speech, that was usually not written by themselves but by a dedicated, professional speechwriter, and then they read it on stage. Why do they do that? Because it’s the most time-effective strategy. You take some minutes before the event to read the speech that has been written for you, once, or twice maybe, you edit a few words here and there, and then you can deliver it on stage. You can’t be more time-efficient than that.
OK, just let me give you another example. From a completely different domain. Let me take the example of radio. Whether the show is live or not. Or the example of podcasting, since this is what I’m doing right now. Most radio hosts, most podcast hosts, when they’re on a solo show, that is, when they have no guest, well, guess what? They read a paper. Most of the time, they read from a paper.
And yes, that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m reading from a paper. I wrote the text of this podcast before recording it. And maybe you are reading the transcript right now, on my website, www.TheIntrovertedSpeaker.com, and yes, that transcript was written first. Because that’s how I like to work. That’s how most radio hosts work. Most of the time. Unless we have guests, or co-hosts.
Now, sure, this probably doesn’t apply to you. You’re very probably not a politician, or the CEO of an important company, so you don’t need (and probably you can’t afford) a professional speechwriter. You must write your own speeches, sorry. Not only that, but these guys have a ton of experience. They don’t have stage fright. Or very little. They usually don’t suffer from public speaking anxiety. Which doesn’t mean they are always at ease within a crowd, by the way. Some of the most important politicians are deeply introverted, for instance. Barrack Obama is a hardcore introvert. Vladimir Poutine is a typical introvert, too. And I already mentioned Buffett.
But they have tons of experience. Probably more than you. So you still need to rehearse, much more than they do. Remember, my motto is that, the more you rehearse, the better your talk will be, and the less nervous you’ll be on stage.
And the thing is, if you suffer from some kind of public speaking anxiety, and you have very little to no experience, you want to ease your nerves as much as possible. And one way to do that is simply to read your speech, if that’s something that you want to do.
Yeah. Write it, word by word, and then read it on stage. You don’t even have to hide yourself.
The 3 Laws Of Non-Robotic Reading
Now, when you write a speech to read it on stage, word by word, there are a few rules to follow, and I’m going to give them. I’ll call them the 3 laws of non-robotic reading, as an homage to Isaac Asimov, and because these are 3 laws you have to follow if you don’t want to sound like a robot. Remember, you’re a human being, and as a human being you have to connect with the audience members. With your fellow human beings listening to you.
Law #1 is: you must write for the ear, not for the eye. Meaning, if you’re used to writing, if in your job, you are used to write texts, like, I don’t know, articles, reports or that kind of things, beware. Written language and oral language are not the same.
Depending on whether your text is targeted to readers or to an audience, you shouldn’t write the same way. If you want an example, just look at the transcript of that podcast episode, for instance. Remember, I wrote it before recording it. And now it’s available on my blog. If you read it, if you read the transcript just like you would read a traditional blog article, you’ll probably feel it’s weird. You’ll feel it’s not written in a very academic way. No, quite the opposite. And that’s normal. That’s because it was written to be read aloud.
Had I wanted to write a pure, traditional blog post instead, I wouldn’t have done it the same way, at all. But then, it would have sounded weird when read aloud. Because, if you read aloud something that was written for the eyes, it will sound bad. It won’t sound conversational. It will probably sound way too formal, and it will put a distance, a barrier between you and your audience. And you don’t want to do that.
OK, let’s get to law #2 of non-robotic reading, now.
Law #2 is: you must learn how to read aloud. If you read with a very monotonous voice, without ever making eye contact with your audience, without even acknowledging their presence, you will bore them within the blink of an eye. And for the very same reason: you’ll be putting a barrier between you and the audience. It would be like you don’t care about them. Like, you didn’t even notice they were there. And they won’t forgive you that. If you don’t care, they won’t care either. And this is something you have to work on, too, if you want to take the “reading on stage” option. And this is hard. Reading with a dynamic voice is hard. This is something you have to learn, too.
Oh, but by the way, if you followed rule #1, if you wrote for the ears, it will be way easier to read with a natural, dynamic voice. The other good news is, introverts tend to be better at that. You don’t always need to make eye contact with the audience to feel them, in a way. It’s hard to explain, but the crowd gives you tons of non-verbal, unconscious clues when you speak, and introverts tend to be more receptive to them. I won’t get into the details there, that’s a whole topic for another time. Let’s get back to our laws of non-robotic reading.
So finally, law #3 is: you must be ready to change a word, here and there, from time to time. You don’t necessarily want to read each and every word exactly. Maybe you wrote something and, at the time of reading, there’s another word that wants to get out of your mouth. That’s great. Embrace it. If you want to say that word, that’s probably because that word fits the context a little better. That’s perfectly normal. Remember, you script is at your service, it’s not the other way around! I do it constantly. If you read the transcript of any of my podcasts at the same time as you listen to them, you will notice it. I constantly change a word here and there. Yeah, in a way, I kinda consider my script is a very detailed, almost but not completely fixed, outline.
And there is another rule to follow, actually. Even if you follow the 3 laws of non-robotic reading, I have to tell your that not all public speaking events are adapted to reading.
Whats the common denominator between a political or executive speech, a journalist on the TV, or a radio host without any guest? The common denominator is that, in all these public speaking events, the audience is not supposed to interact with the speaker. The speaker speaks, and the audience… Well, listens. You’re not supposed to interrupt Mr. Poutine when he’s speaking, and quite frankly, if I were you, I wouldn’t do it even if I had the opportunity. You’re not supposed to interrupt your CEO when he’s giving a speech to all his employees and shareholders, either. And, of course, event if you want to, you can’t interrupt the guy on TV during the news report.
But this is not true to the same extent when you’re giving a powerpoint presentation to some of your colleagues or a lecture to your students, for instance. In these contexts, it’s not uncommon to be interrupted. Because these formats are much more conversational than speeches, radio shows, or news reports. And that’s the reason why, when they have guests or co-hosts, radio hosts tend to get rid of their pre-written scripts.
So, quite frankly, I kind of agree with other public speaking experts in a way: yes I think most of the times, it’s better, especially as a beginner, to work from a canvas, from an outline, than to try to memorize or read a written text. But, and that’s where I disagree, if you’re a part of the exceptions, if you give a speech and if you think it will work better for you, if you’re too nervous at the idea of working from a canvas or even at the idea of memorizing a long text, and if you’re willing to put in the hard work and follow the 3 rules of non-robotic reading, well, be my guest. Because there is no one-size-fits-all in public speaking.
And that’s it for today, that’s the end of that episode of The Introverted Speaker’s Show. I hope you enjoyed it, don’t forget to register to get the next episodes, and if you want to talk with me about this episode by e-mail, or if you want to subscribe to my newsletter and get daily e-mail tips about public speaking and introversion, just go to my website www.TheIntrovertedSpeaker.com.
OK, thanks for listening and see you next time, bye!