Delivering A Manuscript Speech

by Stephen Boyd | May 8, 2007

Years ago, a Kentucky State Senator was delivering a speech in the legislative session. The speech had been written by a disgruntled speechwriter who knew the Senator never looked over the manuscript before he delivered it.

When the Senator got near the bottom of the first page, the script said, “Now the three most important points in this bill are….” He turned the page to see only these words in large print, “You are on your own…I quit!”

That story indicates one of the most important reminders about using a manuscript speech: prepare as carefully as you would for a speech given from notes. There is the misconception among some that since the speech is written, you don’t have to spend much time in practicing—that because your speech is in front of you, all you have to do is read it.

Avoid the manuscript speech if at all possible; it is very difficult to deliver effectively.

Because you read it, eye contact with the audience is difficult, your gestures and other nonverbal tend to be limited, and you will be tempted to read in a monotone. You might have trouble adapting immediately to an unusual audience response, and you can easily stumble over words.

But certain situations demand the manuscript—a very important presentation where you could be misquoted, a highly technical speech, or a eulogy or toast where each word has significant meaning. When those criteria exist, here are some suggestions, in addition to careful preparation, to effectively deliver the manuscript speech.

Place visual reminders in the margins. You could sketch a set of eyes as a reminder to make eye contact, a drawing of a megaphone to encourage you to speak louder, or a drawing of a hand to motivate you to gesture.

Have lots of white space on each page so you won’t look down unnecessarily. Double-space. Only type two-thirds of the way down the page so you can maximize eye contact.

If you have trouble pronouncing words as you practice, write the word phonetically in bold print above it. Practice saying words that are difficult for you, or choose a synonym instead.

Look at the audience at the ends of sentences, ends of paragraphs, ends of pages, and ends of thoughts. This makes your eye contact natural; you avoid looking up and then down at your manuscript in the middle of a sentence. Thus you won’t break up your thought and make your delivery sound choppy to the audience. You will sound more competent and confident when you pause and look up at the audience at a natural break.

Finally, don’t hide the fact that you are using a manuscript. There might be times when you want to hold the page up and take a step to show transition in the content of your presentation. As long as you can maintain a natural delivery with purposeful gestures, eye contact, and vocal variety, seeing you read your speech will not be a problem.

Delivering a manuscript speech is rare, but there are times it is the preferred style. When you need to use this mode, the above tips will allow you to connect with your audience and deliver the speech enthusiastically.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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