Speaking From A Manuscript

by Stephen Boyd | February 28, 2006

Manuscript speaking is reserved for special occasions. You might be giving a presentation where every word must be exactly as you want it so you won't be misquoted. Perhaps your speech includes technical information that must be carefully worded. You could be giving a ceremonial speech where, rather than preparing the speech, you have someone else write it and you speak it from the manuscript.

When you do have to use a manuscript, here are tips to help you avoid simply reading to your audience. Double-space the script and use a font size no smaller than l8 point so that you can read easily and naturally. Print only two-thirds the way down each page (bottom margin set at 3.5 inches) so it is easier to look up at your audience as you speak. As you type, break only at the ends of paragraphs or sentences so that it will be simple for you to look up at the audience as you finish a thought or page. You don't want to be changing pages in the middle of a thought.

Using gestures and speaking with good vocal variety and enthusiasm can be challenging with a manuscript. To make those easier, include visual reminders in the margin so that you will not neglect gesturing, punching out key words, slowing down, or speeding up. Don't write notes to do these things because you might mistakenly read them; visual reminders such as a hand gesturing will avoid that problem. Underlining a key word or statistic can also be a good reminder to punch out that word or number.

You may experiment with the form you want your script to have. You might put the pages in a three ring binder, or place each sheet in a page protector, or attach the pages to sections of a manila folder as support for each page. Practice with a variety of such formats and see which you feel most comfortable with. You want a format that will allow you as much freedom with nonverbal as possible. Don't be in a position where your script is lying on a lectern and cannot be moved, binding you to that spot. Be positioned so that at various times in your presentation you can pick up the script, move a step away from the lectern, and have variety to your delivery style.

Finally, practice enough that you are familiar with the pages. Be able to anticipate where you can look up from your script. Be familiar with the pronunciation of words you will be reading. Practice speaking aloud any sentences where you have difficulty being fluent in your speech. Do enough rehearsing that you do not stumble over words or hesitate to look up at audience members regularly during your speech.

If you incorporate the principles discussed here, your manuscript speech can have the same impact as an extemporaneously-prepared presentation. Audience members will be remembering the points you made, and not the fact that you read the speech to them.

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 http://www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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