The Right Way to Read a Speech


We all know that when delivering a speech it’s always best to learn the material cold and deliver it from the heart. But let’s face it: For busy executives with frequent trips to the podium and little time to prepare, that’s not always an option.

So today I’m giving away the best tip I know for connecting with your audience while READING a speech. Ready? Here it is:

If you must read a speech, make it infinitely more impactful by looking up NOT in the middle of each sentence, but rather at the beginning and, more importantly, the end.

That’s it. Sounds simple enough, yet it’s actually counter-intuitive and requires practice to pull off. But for anyone who doesn’t have time to internalize a speech or simply can’t, mastering this technique for reading remarks is the next best thing.

Here’s why.

In normal conversation, we typically stack the most important words at the ends of sentences and when we speak them, if it’s important, that’s when we’re sure to make eye contact. But somehow when we put ourselves behind a podium, that natural inclination gets flipped and our delivery comes out exactly opposite, depleting our words of impact and making us appear disconnected or insincere. Maybe worse, if we read the way most people are inclined, no matter how great our speechwriter is, we’ll squander every good line by breaking eye contact at exactly the wrong time.

Not convinced this subtle difference matters? Compare the two approaches reading one of the best speech lines ever, borrowed from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s. “I Have a Dream.”

First, the wrong way:

(Eyes down) I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation

(Lift eyes) where they will not be judged by the color of their skin

(Eyes back down) but by the content of their character.

The impact of the sentence is almost completely lost when we drop our eyes while delivering those critical last few words.

Now try reading for impact:

(Eyes up) I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation

(Eyes down) where they will not be judged by the color of their skin

(Eyes back up) but by the content of their character.

What a difference! We’ve made a connection at both the start of the thought and at its inspirational end. It’s as if that sentence takes on all new meaning!

And we can pull this off without memorizing the speech. We simply use the least important part of the sentence—the middle—as an opportunity to glance down, catch our place and gather up the words that will drive our point home.

Though making this adjustment requires practice, the effort is worthwhile. After all, connect with the audience and we’ll win their hearts, we’ll spread our message and who knows? We may even change the world.

Christina McKenna