Recently I came across a great post by fellow presentation skills trainer Cordelia Ditton. It covers the thorny topic of how to deliver a speech from a script. I loved Her step by step take on how to make the speech sound like it was yours and I thought you might find it useful too. Thanks to Cordelia for allowing me to republish it in full.

Imagine the scenario: a friend is taken ill, it’s imperative that their speech is delivered at an important conference, they implore you to deliver it for them. BUT… you don’t know the material, you have a full workload and you’d have to get there. What would you do?
Leaving aside a natural inclination to refuse pointblank, to invent a wedding to go to in Alaska or a pressing appointment with your manicurist… how to make it easy on yourself?
You don’t have time to re-invent the wheel, you have to work with what you’ve got.

Mark up your script in advance, when you’re feeling calm, so that you have a code to follow when you are in front of the audience. This way, you can follow your own directions when/if the nerves kick in. Of course, this is a technique you can also use any time you want to follow a written speech.

When might you do this?
– Every time you speak in public because anything else is too horrible to contemplate.
– When you have little time
– When you have little time and you want the security of a full script, so that you are sure you are getting over the precise information you’ve chosen to relate.
– When you have little time and you want the security of a full script, so that you are sure you are getting over the precise information you’ve chosen to relate plus you don’t want to sound as if you’re reading something
– To help you make sense of the material. (Particularly helpful if you have not written the final draft yourself, or if you’ve written it with others)

Two things you need to look out for:
Where do thought changes occur?
What are the key words in this phrase?

Get yourself a pencil and a highlighter
Read the text.
Is it in the best format?

Nope. Far too small and squashed together. Easy to lose your place when reading this.
Go for large font, well spaced, create space between each sentence. Justify to the left only. Reprint the speech in a better format if necessary. (This will help your brain, and therefore your voice, differentiate between the thoughts you’re expressing. It doesn’t all look the same.)

2. Read the text out loud.

3. Now go back and read sentence by sentence. When you can hear a change in your voice, this is indicating where your brain has decided there is a (slight) change of thought. These also always happen on a punctuation mark. Take your pencil and mark the text with a large, bold forward slash.

4. When you have completed this, throughout the text, go back to the start and read it aloud again.
This time you are listening for where your voice is placing particular emphasis in the phrase. Are there any words which your voice is picking out? If there are, mark them with a highlighter. If not, leave well alone. The last thing you want is a page covered in highlighter.
NB The temptation here is to mark words which you feel your voice should be emphasizing, rather than what your voice actually is emphasizing. Trust your voice. Your brain has already worked out how to speak this text. If you change the way your brain has chosen for you to read the material you are likely to stumble over the text. Trust yourself and simply listen.

5. When you have finished marking the forward slashes and keywords read through the whole passage again. You will hear how intelligent, clear and natural you sound.
If you are not sure what your voice is doing, simply read the text again and listen. If it’s still not clear, don’t mark the script for the sake of it. Leave it a minute or two and try again. You will find that you do start to hear the changes, once you let go of preconceptions and listen to your own voice. Your voice might emphasize different words to the next person. Fine. This is because all our voices have a unique rhythm and this is a way to listen to yours.
Once you get the hang of this it becomes really quick and simple to do. All you have to do is read the whole thing through once, and your brain has already made sense of it. Let go and trust yourself. This technique helps you focus in the present – or ‘play the moment’ as we’d say in the theatre.

Check out Cordelia’s own blog here.



  1. John on 09/08/2018 at 23:43

    Thank you – this is wonderful. I’ve given technical presentations for years but a few weeks ago contracted Lyme disease and it is really messing with my ability to recall information. In two weeks, I am giving an important presentation at an international conference. I simply cannot remember what to say so I wrote a script, recorded and listened to it. Not surprisingly, I’m anything buy happy with the results. I came across your suggestion earlier today and I have applied all the suggestions. It works like a charm!

    Thank you.

    • Gavin Meikle on 10/08/2018 at 09:34

      Thanks for letting me know John. I am delighted that this article proved useful. Good luck with your upcoming presentation, Do let me know how it went.
      Gavin Meikle, The Presentation Doctor.

  2. Pooja on 04/06/2014 at 08:10

    I have a presentation in around an hour from now and I found your tips (Both Gavin and Dean) to be very useful. Thank you!


    • Gavin Meikle on 05/07/2014 at 07:03

      Thanks Pooja
      I hope the presentation went well.

  3. Dean on 10/05/2012 at 02:35

    Good article. A couple of things
    Firstly a couple of design points
    1.  Gavin says  " …The last thing you want is a page covered in highlighter."  This is very true.  A design principle says "When you highlight everything, you highlight nothing. So only use the highlight on the words that matter.
    2. Another elemnt is called "The Principle of Least Difference"  Our eyes are very good at resolving minute differences.  For example one word of a para in a different font will leap out at your eyes. It's our brains ability to discern and resolve patters (and lack thereof) So you only need to make something just-different-enough to stand out.  In the above example the striking pink highlighter is arguably overkill and a less vibrant colour could be used IF you require lots of highights as in this example.
    3. Gavin says " … if you are not sure what your voice is doing, simply read the text again and listen."
    Even better, record your voice and play it back. It will sound VERY different to you than when you simply read aloud. Even if you don't record make sure you do real ALOUD your timing and meter is completely different when done out loud vs in your head. And do it standing up, different again from sitting down.

    • Gavin Meikle on 15/05/2012 at 09:40

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Dean, I love it when people add their own take on my posts and your comments are both valuable. Thanks for this.

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