To script or not to script is a topic that inevitably surfaces this time of year, as nonprofits move into the gala and event season. My experience is that the opinions on either side of this coin are firm. But it’s not a matter of either or. There is an and to consider.
But first, what, precisely, is at issue? The issue is about control. Proponents of the scripted speech want to maintain control of the message and its length, and for good reason. They have a thought-through case for their cause and want to use it to inform the speech. They want the event to stay on message, to move at a pace that will keep the audience’s attention and to end on time.
But the need to control backfires easily.
Delivery inevitably suffers when someone reads a speech. We have all attended an event where a volunteer steps to the podium, begins to read, stumbles a few times and carries on. At the end of the address we are more interested in what’s for dessert than in what the speaker has to say. She stayed on message. She stayed within the allotted four minutes. But what a shame. The opportunity to deliver an important message was lost.
Equally, we have all been at an event where a volunteer steps to the podium and delivers a heartfelt address. By the time she steps away, we understand the world as she does. Her passion has transferred to the audience.
Not to script comes with its own risk, too. I can think of one occasion when a well-intentioned volunteer purposed his time behind the podium to speak directly to a politician who was in the room.
There is a better way. You can script and not script. Work with the speaker to craft a focused, passionate, case-informed address that fits the speaker like a tailored suit. Try on the speech a few times. Then deconstruct it into its main points–words and phrases that will help trigger the speaker’s memory. These are what the speaker takes to the podium.
If delivering from notes is daunting for your speaker, you need to consider who you place behind the podium.
As for content, think about the problems the audience wants to solve and how your organization’s vision can solve them, start there. Tell stories. People remember them. Stay away from facts and figures. People don’t remember them. Look to your case for content. Be authentic.
In the end, it’s not about a script and it’s not about finishing on time. It’s about delivering the case for your cause in a way that resonates with the folks in the room.