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The 4 Delivery Methods

Even though your confidence will grow as you get through your speech, the way it is received will hinge on the method you use to deliver it. There are four ways to deliver a speech: you can memorize it, read it, give an impromptu speech, or speak extemporaneously.


Delivering a word-for-word memorized speech is very difficult, and I don't advise novice speakers to do it. Memorizing puts too much pressure on you, and unless you're an exceptionally fine deliverer, it will sound memorized. In many companies, people who memorize are much touted and I agree that it is impressive. However, in the final analysis, if a speaker is interesting and thought provoking, the audience doesn't mind if notes are used.

Professional speakers often memorize their speeches because they frequently use the same speech. Yet for each new audience they make cuts or additions and customize the speech. Only a very fine speaker can do the same speech over and over again and make it seem fresh each time. So unless you're a very proficient actor—or a politician whose every word will be analyzed in tomorrow's newspaper—don't memorize your speech. "He who speaks as though he were reciting," said Quintilian, "forfeits the whole charm of what he has written."


Reading a written speech has similar pitfalls. Unless your writing is superb and you are a true prose stylist, it's usually a mistake to read verbatim. Presidents of the United States are a notable exception, and they tend to have very good writers on staff. I once heard Jane Trahey, a gifted writer, make a keynote speech. Even though she read the speech, she made it work because her remarkable writing carried her delivery.

But most of us are not exceptional writers, and we stiffen up when we have to write something down. Lacking the confidence professional writers exhibit in their prose style, our written language becomes stilted. Compare a newspaper headline to the way you would relay news to a friend. In conversation we tend to be more natural, using shorter sentences, more colorful language, contractions, and slang. We're more informal and more interesting, which is exactly how a speech should be.

Another drawback of reading is that when you read your speech, you're communicating with the text instead of the audience. Novice speakers often believe that if they memorize their speeches by reading them over and over word for word; they'll be able to stand up and deliver the speech verbatim without reading. It's a great idea, but it just doesn't work. And if you practice by reading from a written manuscript, you will become so wedded to the paper that it is virtually impossible to break away from it. You also lose most of the expressiveness and engaging body language that make speeches work in the first place.

If you feel that you must read your speech, begin by talking it into a tape recorder; then type it up and read from that script—at least then the speech will sound like spoken language.


If you've become known as a speaker, people will sometimes ask you to stand up and give a talk on the spur of the moment. (And this can happen no matter what your status as a speaker is.) Bishop Fulton Sheen went so far as to say, "I never resort to a prepared script. Anyone who does not have it in his head to do 30 minutes of impromptu talk is not entitled to be heard."

Once you've had some experience speaking, you'll probably do a good job with an impromptu speech. Its elements are a condensed version of any prepared speech of general communication. The more you plan, prepare, and polish your formal presentations, the more persuasive you will be in all your communications.

  • Know your main point.

  • Know your purpose.

  • Work in a couple of good examples.

  • Try for a memorable conclusion.

  • Be sure to make a circle (relate your conclusion back to your opening). People always find this very impressive.

If you are known in a certain field, it's always a good idea to have a few brief speeches under your belt that you can deliver impromptu.


If you shouldn't memorize your speech, and you shouldn't read it, and you don't want to speak off the top of your head unless you absolutely have to, what is the best kind of delivery? The fourth kind—the extemporaneous speech—is the one that works best for almost every speaker. It means being very well prepared, but not having every word set. From the beginning, practice using notes, but never a typed script. The idea of practicing is not to memorize your speech but to become thoroughly familiar with the expression and flow of ideas. Don't memorize; familiarize. You can also prepare by reciting your speech into a tape recorder, using your outline to guide you. Again, talking keeps your speech fresh and helps you avoid the traps of written words.

Rehearse aloud, on your feet, at least six times. Edit your notes after each playback of the tape recorder. The more you rehearse, the better your speech will be. Those who knew Abraham Lincoln well said that the effectiveness of his talks was in direct proportion to the amount of time he spent rehearsing them aloud and on his feet.

Even when speaking extemporaneously, you should memorize certain key elements of your talk: the opening; the transition from the opening that takes you to your first point; every important transition that follows; and the conclusion.

Memorizing these parts ensures that you will know how to get from point to point and will help you maintain eye contact at all important moments.

When you speak extemporaneously, you incorporate techniques from the other kinds of deliveries. You end up committing certain parts to memory; you occasionally read a note from your note cards; and you may even throw in an off-the-cuff, impromptu remark. Because your delivery style is flexible, the speech can evolve, and you will still be comfortable and in control because you know where you're going and how you're going to get there.

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