There are plenty of reasons why learning to read without sounding like you are reading is a useful skill to learn.
Perhaps you deliver lots of video content and are done with being a 20-take 'wonder'. Maybe you want to take your bedtime storytelling game to the next level for your children or perhaps you've just accepted His Majesty's invitation to form a government.
Like many of you, I watched Rishi Sunak deliver his first speech as Prime Minister yesterday morning.
It was fine. In fact, according to MicDrop Analytics - it was faultless.
No filler words ✅
Top keywords: Country, Government ✅
Average pause length ~2 seconds ✅
But I couldn't help feeling like the words came from Rishi's speech writer, rather than from Rishi himself. Which is a problem.
Let's be clear here. Scripting speeches isn't the issue. My reputation as a public speaking coach has been centered around the idea that what you say matters. The PM has got far more important things to be doing than writing speeches and worrying about semantics.
Right now, the relationship between the government and the country has never been more fractured. So it was unsurprising to hear:
' I will unite our country, not with words, but with action.
This government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.
'Trust is earned and I will earn yours.'
Lines designed to start repairing the relationship. But when delivered in such a scripted way, they could be very easily interpreted as empty. The general sentiment (from my echo chamber at least) seems to be relatively positive. Right now, Rishi has got some goodwill on his side. But it won't last. If the last few years have taught us anything, it is to approach everything a politician says with a very healthy dose of skepticism.
Personally, I believe that words will help to unite the country; but only if they sound like they're his.
Within the next two years, there will be a general election. Luckily for Rishi Keir's ability to read without making it sound like he is reading is on par with his own (pretty dire) - making it a level playing field. Herein lies an opportunity to move the needle!
How to Sound Less Scripted
Step 1: Write for listeners, not for readers.
We are far more formal when we write. We choose words that make us sound smarter than we are. We create sentences that are far too long for us to deliver in one breath which leaves us either straining for our words or gasping for air if we manage to finish it. We punctuate our sentences in a way that might have satisfied our English teachers, but also in a way that is very unsatisfying to say.
Simplify your word choice to make your words less formal
Keep your sentences short
Include turns of phrases and idioms that you would commonly use in everyday conversation... Hmm, a former PM springs to mind...!
Adjust your grammar to the way you actually speak so it flows when you read it. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, start a sentence with 'and'!
Step 2: Practice reading your script out aloud (and tweak).
When reading it, ask yourself a very simple question: Does it sound like me? The bits that don't will be very obvious to you. Make adjustments accordingly, keeping the above bullets in mind.
When you're delivering for real, give yourself permission to add the odd sentence in here and there to blur the lines between scripted and non-scripted. (A comms person's nightmare I know...).
Step 3: Learn to read with less emphasis.
Over emphasis is the ultimate 'I'm reading a script' tell. If you watch Rishi's speech back, you'll notice that he placed emphasis on, well... everything. Below is a snippet (emphasised words in bold).
'Iwillunite our country, not with words, but with action. I will work day in and day out to deliverfor you. This government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level. 'Trust is earned and I will earn yours.'
26 out of 42 words - that's more than every other word! Nobody speaks like that. If that wasn't reason enough, here are two more:
If you emphasise everything, you emphasise nothing.
Rather than sounding like you care, you could come across as patronising. Not a great sound for a PM.
Emphasise sparingly by practicing the art of 'throwing away' your sentences. The less you care about the words you're saying the more 'normal' you will sound.
Vary your speed and volume in accordance with the energy you want to transmit.
Connect with the words you're saying. Communication is a transference of feelings. Your job is to transfer them!
Follow these three steps and you'll be in a far better place than when you started.
It's worth noting that there are scenarios in which thought leaders might find themselves scripting their keynotes too.
I once worked with a brilliant entrepreneur on my Thought Leadership Accelerator who gave a talk on one of the most emotionally charged subjects on the internet. Feminism! At the time, she was, by her own admission not an expert on the subject, so she put in countless hours to ensure her arguments were well-reasoned.
She then spent obscene amounts of time learning the talk word for word. The stakes were high. Her argument was nuanced. A word wrong could completely change her intended meaning.
Credit where it's due, she nailed it but I'd be lying if I said that she enjoyed her time on stage - she found it incredibly stressful and I've no doubt standing behind a podium would have made a profound difference to her enjoyment on the day.
The choice is always yours. The point is, having a script/prompts is never a problem if you know how to use them properly.
Published on October 26, 2022
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