The one-sided conversation
Tom Salinsky writes...
I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about the difference between broadcast communication and interactive communication. Broadcast communication freaks people out because it feels artificial and they feel “on show”. But once you get the hang of it, broadcast communication can be easier, certainly easier than talking to important strangers, because you get the chance to practice it.
This leads some people to write a script for themselves for big events – a formal pitch, a town hall, a shareholder meeting and so on. But there’s a big difference between a speech and a presentation. A speech exists simultaneously as a written document and a verbal presentation. When politicians give big speeches, copies are circulated to the press beforehand. The actual reading-out in front of the audience is almost a formality. And so it doesn’t matter if the content is a bit mannered or the delivery is a bit stiff. We get that this is a prepared statement. It’s thrilling when a politician appears to be “winging it” but it’s the exception, rather than the norm.
But that doesn’t mean that this approach will work in all cases. Memorising a script is hard, and making that script come to life is harder still. That’s why top actors get paid those exorbitant salaries. But you only have to turn on Radio 4 to learn that you can tell in an instant the difference between spontaneous speech and acting – especially when the actors are reading directly from a script (as is the norm in radio).
So, for most broadcast communication cases, and this is especially true of more intimate situations such as a pitch in front of only 3-4 people, a script will make your life harder not easier. Yes, you will not have to worry about forgetting the sequence, or finding the best possible phrase, but the presence of the script will create a barrier. If you are literally holding the script, the barrier will be a physical one. Even if you only have it “just in case”, if you are holding it, I promise you, you will look it at – far more then you need to or intend to. And every time you look down, you cut yourself off from the people you are hoping to influence.
But even if the script is memorised, the act of reciting a text word-for-word is so fundamentally different from having a conversation that a virtual barrier of artificiality will be created. It’s hard to be influenced by someone who seems to be hiding their personality away.
Great presentations still sound like conversations. They may not be interactive in the sense that you take it in turns to contribute and you constantly have to adjust your approach to deal with the new input, but they should sound relaxed, informal, friendly and natural. A conversation in which you do all the talking.
It’s incredibly hard to achieve this if a word-for-word script even exists, so try and resist writing one. Instead, work on the structure, work on some particularly important turns of phrase, and then, on the day, look your audience in the eye, smile and just tell them what you came there to say.