Your Script is Ruining Your Presentation

 Before your next presentation, consider this: your script can hold you back from being your best on stage or in the conference room. I have written a lot of scripts over the years, and I know exactly how to write them and what purpose they serve. You can’t make a world-class presentation without a script, but if you don’t know how to use them, they will hold you back and prevent you from doing your best possible presentation. I want to offer you the information you need to know about how your presentation script can prevent you from being your best.

Do you know what you’ll do if you have a script in your hand or on a podium, table, or platform? I know what will happen! Any smart executive coach will tell you: If you have a script and an audience in front of you, the script will win your attention every time. You can’t help it. You’re human; you’d rather look at printed words on the page than the faces of those in your audience. 

Your paper will never yawn, look disinterested, look up, look down, or look all around. The paper will never reject you as a speaker or as a person, it comforts you. Those irresistible notes draw your attention and hold your eyes fixed on the paper —even if you don’t need any notes. Do not carry your script with you when you present—you'll use them. 

What about cue cards or notes? Abbreviated notes serve a valuable purpose. You must develop your system with cue cards. (This topic featured in a future post—subscribe now and you won't miss it.)  

What about PowerPoint slides with detailed bullet points? We call this "death by PowerPoint." PowerPoint slides comfort many presenters who do not dedicate enough time to learn their presentation. This method also comes in handy with those who present material designed by other people such as presentations handed to the training staff. 

A few years ago, one of my public speaking clients habitually asked me to create his presentations at the last minute. He never rehearsed beforehand and always requested the outline of the presentation built into the text of the PowerPoint slides. He used the slides instead of notes. He used to say, “I’ll know my next point when I see it.” Yes, his unfamiliarity with the content presented itself loud and clear during his delivery. When the presenter and the audience read together, there is no magic. 

Also, sometimes a delay occurs in the on-screen delivery of advancing slides. If you depend on PowerPoint for your next point—count on it—delays will occur every time. Never use PowerPoint as a script-reminder or abbreviated TelePrompTer.

Another issue involves the language used to write your script. In every other aspect of life, we create words for reading eyes. Presentation scripts differ from the written word. The script serves the presenter as a tool for the creation of the spoken word. Scripts function best when written for the ear, not the eye. Avoid writing a script in the same manner and using the same language you write everything else.

Be intentional about the type of language you put in a script. Write your presentation script must use your natural everyday language. Storytelling must always utilize everyday language. The planning and premeditation of your presentation content can create a unique temptation: you may end up using a more eloquent, polished, and sophisticated language than you use in regular conversations. Keep it simple and avoid creating more work due to your choice of language. 

Script-language, because it differs from your natural language, creates unnecessary work. If you use scripted wording you double or triple the amount of work required to make your presentation. Think about the added steps: you must construct sentences using challenging words; then, you must rehearse these highly refined words; and finally, you have the pressure of smoothly delivering this awkward language in the most natural way—in front of an audience. Avoid script-language.

If you use natural language, the words from everyday conversations, your scripts will work for you, rather than making you work for them. 

The time you save by using conversational language in your script will free you up to invest in the most important aspect of presentation preparation: the rehearsal. The amount of time spent rehearsing your presentation should far exceed the writing of the script. 

Many presenters misunderstand the purpose and benefit of rehearsals. As I presentation skills coach, I see people suffering the effects of lack of rehearsal time but seldom do I see them trace the pain back to its source. 

I know the agony of being unprepared; I know what it feels like. This wave of anxiety sweeps over you the moment you stand square in front of your audience. You think, "Oh no, I did too little too late the preparation of this speech!" You realize you intellectually know your content, but psychologically and emotionally you confront a gap, which seems more like an ever-widening canyon, between your mind and your mouth. 

It many not be the lack of preparation time that causes this anxiety but a lack of efficiently using the time. Almost always the absence of rehearsal time deserves the blame. Rehearsals, or coached rehearsals (I call it delivery coaching), creates a bridge between script and polished delivery.  

A facilitated approach to rehearsals will always generate a heightened level of ease and comfort for you, and dramatically improve your delivery. Many people write a script (some create revision after revision over and over) and walk about reading it, studying it, or even memorizing it. Some wrongly call this time with their script “preparation time.” I call it a waste of time. Time spent studying the script sucks up time you could rehearse your presentation. 

Most people have no idea how to rehearse. Success will follow you when you develop and refine your rehearsal process.

Stay tuned; we’ll talk about rehearsing in another blog post. I can set you free from this step and facilitate your rehearsal time in person, or via video conferencing. 

You won’t believe the difference a directed rehearsal will make!

I'll repeat this one more time: a presentation must have a script but a script misused will always hold you back from being your best. I don’t want you held back. I want the advantage resting in your court as you prepare for and deliver presentations. I am ready to come along beside you and assist if you’re serious about raising the bar on your speaking/presenting skills. 

Prepare. Rehearse. Tell your story!


Michael Cooley