Wednesday 6 December 2023

Script Options for Successful Speakers

There's more than one way to format a speech for presentation. What's best for you?

Written by Robyn T. Braley

After your speech is written, you must organize it into a presentation format that suits your style.

Of course, the ideal way to deliver a speech is to memorize it. However, if that’s not for you, there are other delivery methods.

The Last Laugh

As every speaker knows, the path to speaking success is paved with hours of preparation. I learned this principle the hard way.

The first time I spoke before a crowd of 400 people, I was 17 and running to become the President of my High School Student’s Counsel. I aced the debate and won because I told jokes about my opponent. My election victory had nothing to do with visionary thinking or big ideas.

While I won the election, the last laugh was on me. The second time I spoke to that same crowd was one week later. That time, my fellow students expected me to be … well … Presidential.

My task was to chair a business meeting in which the students were to choose a major project that would be the school’s contribution to our country’s Centennial Anniversary. We would raise funds in various ways throughout the year. 

That was when I learned there are few public speaking occasions where you can just wing it! I panicked! I stumbled, I stammered. I had no idea what to do. Much to my embarrassment, our principal had to step in and finish the meeting.

Previous Posts about Public Speaking

My first post in this series offers tips for writing your story. ‘How to Write Speeches That Move People!’

The purpose of my second post, Tech Check Tips For Public Speakers, MCs, Comics, and Funeral Eulogizers is to provide practical tips for avoiding tech pitfalls.  

Choosing the Best Option

There is no one way to prepare for a speech. You must experiment until you find one that is comfortable for you.

I know a church of 6,000+ whose Pastor stands behind a transparent podium and reads his 40-minute talk word-for-word in 4 services each weekend. He does it in a way that fully engages each audience.

Another moves smoothly around the platform as he talks without notes. He is a master in the art of speaking without physical notes. 

A third places an iPad with his talking points on a portable stand. Periodically, he moves away from the stand to emphasize essential points but always returns to the iPad.

In this post, I discuss 7 presentation options.

1.      An outline

2.      Talking points

3.      Cue cards

4.      Scripted word-for-word

5.      PowerPoint cues

6.      Memorized with no prompts

7.      A teleprompter

An Outline

An outline provides a framework for organizing the main and supporting points into an order that makes sense and is easy to follow. Structure the content into three sections: introduction, body, and conclusion.

·        Write short sentences as your beginning, middle and end. 

·        Next, go back and write sub-points under each heading. Leave sample space between them so you can expand on each one as needed.

·         Write a knock-em-dead conclusion!

·         Number each main heading.

·         Alphabetize sub-points under each heading.

·         Indent supporting points.

Numbers and letters distinguish main points from subordinate ones to help you stay on point. 

As you build your speech, read it out loud. That will give you a sense of flow and correct word- usage. More about that in a later post.

Talking Points

Talking Points are what you think they are! The main points of your speech are written as single sentences that tell your story.

The term is used extensively in political circles. Notes are usually prepared by each politician's communications person.

The greatest joy for journalists, is to lure politicians away from their talking points. When they speak off the cuff, you never know what juicy sound bite may reveal something salacious.   

I recommend numbering each point rather than using bullet points. Numbers give easy reference points that keep you from getting lost!

Cue or Note Cards

For decades, speakers have used cue cards for reference. The term comes from movie and television productions where actors read their lines from cards close to the camera lens. 

I hosted a TV production that featured comedian Phyllis Diller and was filmed before a live audience. Watching Phyllis work with the cue card operator was magical! It was indeed a lesson in old-time execution and teamwork.  

Cue Card Fundamentals

A standard card is 5” X 7”. Write a key point on each card that advances your talk.

Having too much information may be confusing. A phrase followed by a couple of supporting points is all you need on each one.

Use a minimum number. The more cards you have, the easier it is to get them out of order or to drop them as you walk to the podium.

The other downside is needing to hold or place them on a podium. Each time you go to the next card, it can be very distracting unless you do it fluidly. 

Write Your Speech Word for Word

Some prefer to present their speech word for word right off the page. The thing to remember is that it is meant to be performed, not read. Check out my speech writing tips in ‘How to Write Speeches That Move People!’


I love using a teleprompter when I produce videos. Teleprompters are metal frames that hold glass and a mirror. They are attached to a camera and allow performers to look directly into a camera lens as they read text that scrolls in front of it.

Teleprompters are used by news and sports anchors to deliver the news. Spoiler alert: the papers they shuffle at the end of their segments are for show only!

As for using the device in a live speech, I advise caution. You must be entirely comfortable with the medium to use it effectively.

Politicians often use them at live rallies or news conferences. Many come off cold and wooden. Also, using a teleprompter introduces yet another technology that can go wrong!

PowerPoint Cues

The primary purpose of a PowerPoint show is to enhance the speaker's content. A secondary use is as a visual monitor that cues the speaker.

I begin by sketching out a story outline. Then, I storyboard the slides by drawing squares with a descriptive word, phrase, or image. Next, I construct the actual show. 

As I create the slides, I absorb the ideas. Rehearsing it as I go helps me to memorize it.

Tips and Tricks

There are two options for using your slides as cues. With each, you must be able to advance each slide with a remote clicker. An extra-long HDMI cord will provide flexibility for hooking up your laptop to a projector if you speak in different venues.

1.      Place your laptop on the podium in a way that does not block the view of your face.

2.      If working without a podium, place it on a small table or chair in front of you.

If speaking at a conference, request a comfort monitor, a large TV flat screen placed on the floor before tilted back so you can easily see it.

I often speak at charitable events that don’t have the budget for monitors. I set my laptop, which has an oversized screen, on a chair or small table so I can easily see my slides.

If the NFP event is in a hall or large auditorium, I take an old TV screen. I set it on the floor and lean it back against a chair in the front row.

Large conferences often have 2 giant screens on either side of the platform. As I move about, I casually glance at the audience or monitor screens for prompts. Many in the audience have no idea that I don’t have my talk fully memorized.

Memorize Your Script

The ideal way to deliver a speech is to memorize it. However, I hate to disappoint you if you consider memorization a shortcut. It is more, not less work.

Memorizing allows you to communicate ideas more effectively. It is easier to engage the audience by sounding natural and conversational. You can connect in a way that reading your speech does not allow.

The benefits are many.

·         Freedom to move about the stage.

·        Ability to  use the power of body language.

·         Make eye contact for a deeper connection..

Nailing it Down

The first steps are to write an outline and then rough out a script.

Next, use the chunking method to begin the memorization process. Text is organized into word groups. If you remember the first word, you’ll probably remember the rest.

The simplest example is to organize a phone number sequence of 8-8-8-5-5-5-1-2-3-4 into chunks of 888-555-1234. (Google it) When I voice radio commercials I ‘chunk’ the phone number to make it easier for the listeners to remember.

Picture Perfect

When learning lines, actors associate an image from their personal experience with an idea. For example, when they need to cry, they bring up the emotional memory of when a beloved friend, relative, or pet died.

They turn the key points into a series of visual images. Then, they order the pictures.

A Rehearsal Hack

The best way to memorize a speech is by continuously practicing it. Follow these 4 steps to rehearse your script,

1.      Go through your speech using the written speech.

2.      Go through it using your outline.

3.      Go through it using image memory triggers.

Finally, record your speech on your phone. You can play it through your home music system or in your car on the way to the gig.

Physically Practical

My last tip only makes sense. If you feel good, there’s a better chance you will do good! Get plenty of rest the night before you speak. Take bottles of water to help you stay hydrated. 

Wrapping it Up

Has this post helped you?  Do you have other tips? I'd love to hear from you. Please share them in the comment section below. 

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Twitter: @RobynTbraley

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