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April 2012

Friends when we need them

I was astonished the other day when the Washington Post ran an article decrying Bruce Springsteen's use of a teleprompter onstage during his current tour. Apparently this isn't exactly news, as The Boss has been using said device for the past couple of tours, at least. Thankfully, Nils Lofgren came to Springsteen's defense on the WaPo blog on April 3rd. As Lofgren says, the prompter enables his bandmate Springsteen to be more spontaneous, to give a better show because he is not rummaging around in his brain for half-forgotten lyrics. He can read from the prompter and thus direct his energy to creating his music and connecting with the audience.

There seems to be a huge misconception that if you need help remembering your words while speaking or performing, you're just not doing your job. See Rick Santorum's thoughts on this from the campaign trail. Whether they call it "speaking from the heart" or "off the cuff," impromptu speaking is highly prized by people who seem to think preparation is for sissies!


Think about it. Do you really want to sit through speeches that are just "popping into" the heads of speakers as they are looking at you? Waiting for something to "come to them" that seems coherent and relevant? Have you ever been that unprepared speaker, hoping that inspiration will strike when you need it most? What were you thinking then? Probably something along the lines of, "darn it, I really should have prepared!"

I counsel my clients not to fall into this trap. Because it is a trap. It is simply not true that preparation equals lack of authenticity. On the contrary, preparation shows you care about your audience. You respect it enough to take time to organize your thoughts, then to make sure they are put together in a way that makes these thoughts comprehensible to listeners. Short sentences. Active verbs.

The fact of the matter is that many folks who claim to be speaking extempore are really super-prepared. They just like to create an aura of mystery and make you think they can be brilliant at the drop of a hat! Of course they will never tell you their secret.

An aide, not a crutch

But you already know this. When you think about it, you know that to effectively deliver your message you need to prepare. You need to make sure you are saying what you want to say how you want to say it, in a way you can repeat if necessary. Memorizing such a speech might be desirable, but that takes time. Lots of time. And no one has enough of that, certainly not people in leadership positions.

Good--even great--speakers use notes. It's a fact. You don't notice because their delivery is so confident. Often they have planted their notes on the podium so you don't see them. But they are there. I know. So be like the pros. Prepare and practice. Memorize your opening two lines and your final line. And take your notes. Only professional actors are expected to perform without them. After they have rehearsed.

Tips you can use!

Don't lock your knees
If you stand with locked knees, you throw off your natural alignment, making breathing less efficient. Every member of a chorus knows standing with locked knees can lead to fainting!

Say "thee" before a vowel
When you have "the" before a word beginning in a vowel or a silent consonant ("h" as in "honor"), pronounce it with a long "e" sound. It flows better and eliminates an unattractive glottal stop.

Avoid vocal fry
Some may find it sexy but when you use this "creaky voice" it's hard to understand. If you growl your words you might be doing lasting harm to your voice, too.