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Should you script your keynote?

To script or not to script, that is the question! OR – Should I script my keynote?

Should I script my keynote?

I wouldn’t say that speaking or communication in general is a highly controversial topic, but if there is anything that stirs a controversy, it’s this.


To script, or not to script?


Although I have a very strong opinion for beginning and intermediate speakers (script. Absolutely script.), I think there is some wriggle room for advanced speakers and some exceptions to the rule.


I do, however, think that a lot of new speakers who decide not to script make that decision based on some questionable info.


So, in this post, I’m going to bust the top 4 myths about scripting so you can decide for yourself if you’d like to script or not.

Should you script your keynote?

Should you script your keynote?

Myth: Scripting = robotic, boring, inauthentic delivery


I’m a big fan of scripting your speech. I’m not, however, a big fan of sounding like a robot. Luckily, one doesn’t lead to the other! In fact, if done right, having a well thought out script will actually help your delivery sound 100% natural and completely conversational, not hurt it.

Yes, of course I’ve heard people reading from a script, word for word, with no emotion. And no, it isn’t fun to listen to. Unfortunately, they give all scripters a bad name.

But here’s the truth, scripting a speech doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stick to that script – word for word. (And you definitely won’t be reading from it).

Just like using a calendar to plan out your day, using a script to plan out your speech gives you freedom. It makes it much easier for your to remember to hit your main points, use your keywords and stay on track – while also giving you freedom to veer away from that script when needed (for questions or interruptions) while still having a plan to get back on track.

So why bother scripting if you won’t stick to it word for word?

I find that having written out my ideal version of the speech helps me stick pretty close, rather than practicing it a different way each time (and I’ve found this to be true for way more than the majority of the over 2000 people I’ve taught so far – you’re probably not the exception to this rule, even though it’s really tempting to think you are). It stops me from searching for the right word, or the right way to describe something while I’m on stage (and when nerves can cloud thinking).


Myth: A scripted speech keeps you from going deep and being vulnerable


This is something I saw on a Facebook post in one of my biz groups recently. Some people argued that if a speech or conversation was scripted, it kept the speaker from going deep into their personal story and kept the answers too ready-made and calculated.


I don’t agree at all. If your goal is to get vulnerable, script a speech that does that! Having time to go back, review and edit your speech will allow you to see which areas need more work – or an emotional boost.


You can take the time to add in depth descriptions and elaborate on feelings. It allows you time to reflect and uncover additional memories that might not pop into your head if you wait until the very moment that you’re on stage to think fully through the story.

Plus – you can always add to your story in the moment if it strikes you. But at least you have an idea version to fall back on if your mind goes blank on stage.

Think of it this way. Have you ever been in an argument with your spouse or significant other and had nothing to say? You just knew you had better points, but in the heat of the moment, you couldn’t think of examples or a logical explanation for why you feel the way you do, or why you did what you did, or why you’re just right, darn it!?


Then…. 20 minutes later, you’re sitting there and all of those examples rush back. And you realize how much better you could have explained yourself if you just had all of those thoughts available to you at the time.


Same thing here. You have a better chance of reaching your goals – whether that is becoming vulnerable or clearly explaining a process – if you give yourself a chance to access those thoughts ahead of time.

Myth: A scripted speech leaves no wriggle room for the unexpected

You’ve probably seen a speaker who was sticking so tightly to a script (probably because of nerves) and then when something happens in the room, they completely ignore it – like a fire alarm going off, or a raised hand – because they just can’t go off script. It’ll throw them off.

And maybe this has stopped you from scripting your speech – because you don’t want to look like that. You want to respond like a human!

But here’s the thing – that person isn’t a great example. It wasn’t the script that keeps them from responding, it’s a lack of preparation (which leads to a whole lotta anxiety!)

When you know your speech inside and out, you’re able to jump away from it and then jump right back in without missing a beat.


The key is to know your speech beyond the script, not to rely on that script like you would a book you are reading from. (Tweet it. You know you love it 🙂


Again, the script will give you a plan – an ideal way to deliver your message without having to think about it on the spot. That doesn’t mean you should rely on it to actually deliver your speech in the moment.


Knowing your material (what you plan to say + additional examples and explanations) will help you deliver a clear and off the cuff (looking) speech.


Myth: By scripting your speech you’ll look unprepared or inexperienced


Nope. Not at all!


If you take a look at really well received speeches – ones that the audience has an emotional reaction to – we’ll often see that they were very planned – to the word.


Unless you’re a complete natural (and a bit of a poet), and can think in rhymes and rhythms, similes, metaphors and alliteration, you’ll just never get the same effect by speaking off the top of your head that you will from a well thought out speech.


You’ll also run the risk of rambling, or not fully explaining your thoughts. All of which will make you look completely unprepared.


So, how do you look professional? By succinctly explaining your points. By creating visualizations of your stories. And by forming an emotional connection with the people you’re speaking to. And that doesn’t all happen on accident. It takes planning.


Again, I’m a big fan of planning and scripting. I create an outline for all of my one-on-one clients – it helps us work through the stories, examples and points so that we know we’re on point and well prepared.


But, I’d love to hear from you! Do you use a script? If you don’t, what are some pointers you have for keeping organized and well prepared? If you do use one, give us a tip for working with a script so that you don’t sound like a robot! I’d love to hear in the comments below!


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About the Author Sandy Donovan

Sandy empowers the young and talented to increase their power and influence by improving their ability to be heard and be clear. She does this by providing access to rigorously tested research in the communication, psychology, and marketing fields.