I have debated this question with colleagues and friends who are interested in public speaking. For me, the answer comes down to two things: type of presentation and personal preference.
Let’s first look at some of the pros and cons of each option.
Writing a speech word for word
- You have ready everything in advance and there will be no surprises – like forgotten words or ideas you missed.
- It will be well-organised and everything will be delivered in the best possible order to maximise the smooth flow of the presentation.
- You have prepared some strong anchor phrases and take home messages that will be memorable for your audience.
- It can appear too rehearsed. Because you know exactly what you are going to say two situations can happen that lessen the quality of your speech. Either you know your speech really well, so the delivery can seem mechanical and boring, or you don’t know the words well enough and the speech becomes disjointed as you search for your words.
- This method takes a lot more time to prepare well.
Writing only the main points
- You have the freedom to improvise on the spot. This can be an advantage if you don’t know your audience in advance and want to tailor the information to their needs on the spot. It is also an advantage if your given time is made longer or shorter.
- It takes less time to prepare.
- The words you use in the delivery might not be as powerful and as carefully chosen because you come up with them on the spot.
- You may forget details that you wanted to mention or in what order you wanted to make your arguments.
Why does it depend in the situation?
There are some occasions where you are not going to spend too much time and effort crafting every word you say. For example, if you are contributing some information in a team meeting and your presentation is quite short, you may only prepare bullet points and rely on your notes.
However, if you are preparing a presentation that you will give several times, such as an educational workshop or sales presentation, you might want to put more time into the preparation. This could mean writing out some key phrases as well as your introduction and conclusion to make sure that each group hears the same information.
If the stakes are extremely high, such as a business pitch, you may want every word to be carefully chosen so that each word adds value to your presentation. This creates a high impact presentation. However, it is important to keep in mind that you will need more practice to remember everything word for word.
What about personal preference?
Some people feel more comfortable if they know exactly what they are going to say, while others are happy to improvise as they go along. Go with your gut feeling on this. Very few presentations are scripted word for word or completely improvised, so you will probably find yourself somewhere in the middle. Personally, I like to be prepared and so quite often write out large sections of my presentations, especially if I am going to give it more than once. Professionals have varying views on this too.
The fun stuff comes when someone is not so strict on sticking to the script. You’re allowed the spontaneity, and great moments can happen. -Jennifer Aniston
There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave. -Dale Carnegie
But I… never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it. -Mark Twain