In the context of this myth it’s important to leave aside those speeches of a more political or legal nature where every word will be studied and debated.
We’re talking here primarily about business presentations and the many different sorts of presentations at congresses, conferences and seminars.
- What are the risks of reading your presentation aloud?
- What risks are attached to using any text written by someone else?
What the listener takes away
One thing is absolutely clear: the listener hears and takes with him only a very small fraction of what you say. Whether you are stimulating or boring, he draws one simple conclusion while he listens.
This simple conclusion forms the ‘message’ of the presentation.
With any luck what he takes away is the same as what you intended!
You may be sure that when you bore the listener, you lower your chances that he draws a favourable conclusion.
It must be clear to you, then, that it’s in your favour to get the listener excited and involved!
Content… or message
It’s up to you whether you try to tell everything or choose to restrict yourself to just one aspect of the whole story.
You know now that the listener doesn’t hear and remember everything, so what’s the point of trying to do that?
Are you so unsure of your work that you feel a need to prove something?
Whenever you use the message as the theme of your presentation, and as a touchstone for everything you think you want to tell, you create the freedom to talk at length around this single, clear message.
You’re the only one who knows what you leave out!
And: the listener only gets what you give him… when you choose to give it!
These are two of the most valuable sources of relaxation for any speaker!
The reading process
Consider for a moment what happens when you read a text aloud.
Your attention goes to the piece of paper in front of you.
You have no contact with the listeners and therefore no feedback on how you’re presenting.
You have a text in – let’s hope! – correct English, but it’s nevertheless a text which is written.
The sentences will be longer than in the spoken language, they will be more complete, and there’s a good possibility the style will be more formal.
The communication process
Genuine communication involves, as you now know, much more than just words.
Although the words you use should be clear and easy to follow, you need more than just language in order to establish contact with your listener.
Eye contact is an excellent example of what is needed, which is fairly difficult to make when an (inexperienced) speaker reads aloud from his paper.
A certain dynamism – such as gestures and movement – is also an essential requirement.
All rather difficult when reading aloud from behind a lectern.
Many speakers immediately start sounding terribly formal as soon as they begin to read, while it is precisely the dynamism of an enthusiastic voice that is a powerful means of attracting and keeping the listener’s attention and getting him interested.
If you’re honest about it, you know full well that when you get into a conversation which excites you, you tend to speak in shorter, grammatically incorrect sentences with lots of repetition.
Whatever your personal experience, you’ll surely agree that the sentences are different from when you write about the same subject.
Even certain hesitations (no, not ‘uh’) are typical of the spoken word, and can be used to give the impression that you are not reading aloud.
When you have written your whole presentation in every detail in order to read it aloud, how much space is there for spontaneity?
To interact with your listeners?
To choose another direction, or change the emphasis within your story?
Such a well-prepared text makes it difficult to be flexible.
The American writer and philosopher, Arthur Koestler, once said:
The experienced speaker makes a collaborator of his listener.
The interaction with which you engage your listener is one of the keys to his involvement. And for this spontaneity you need to be flexible.
Reading aloud: technique and art
Imagine you were given a text prepared by someone else.
Written, maybe, by a ‘professional’ speechwriter. It could happen to you!
Read on for just some of the many powerful tips to help you make the most of such a text.
Ask if you can have the text in a larger format (14 points is usually adequate).
Give some other instructions:
- begin each new sentence on a new line
- a broader left margin
- non-justified text
- upper and lower margins of 2-3 cm
- empty lines between paragraphs and subjects
When you get the text, use a pen in contrasting colour (red?) to put thick vertical lines between parts of each sentence.
Just like in this last sentence, you could put a line between ‘text’ and ‘use’, or between ‘lines’ and ‘between’.
Your task as speaker is simply to speak aloud the words up to one of these lines (or a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark) while you make eye contact with your listeners.
You breathe out, breathe in, ‘suck up’ with your eyes the next group of words, and make eye contact again before you say them. In this way you come across as more ‘natural’ than if you were to just race through the text.
Use the upper margin to write the page number. In the lower margin write the first few words of the next page. Use the broad left margin to add any notes you may have, and to hold onto the papers.
Skilled in contact
You can now appreciate that using a prepared text is more complicated than you maybe thought.
However, as long as you build in ‘space’ to keep in touch with listeners in both content and packaging, then you’re well on your way.
The extent to which you go on to learn all the other skills is now up to you!