Excuse me while I check my notes

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I’ve done a lot of presentations over the years and I don’t just mean in the courtroom. I’ve done them to small crowds with friendly faces and to big audiences where many people had no idea who I was or why I was on stage. I’ve scored home runs and bombed brilliantly, and everything in between.

Every one of my presentations was done without a script, except two.

The first was when I delivered a eulogy for a close friend and didn’t think I could get through it without the written page to hold onto. The second was when I received an award and was given two minutes to speak, which wasn’t enough time to thank everyone, let alone say what I wanted to say. (I took six minutes, thank you.)

There are times when a written speech is warranted. If you’re testifying before Congress, go ahead and use a script. But for most occasions, you’re better off without one.

You can write a script and use it to practice. But leave the script in your pocket during your talk.

You can use bullet points on your slides or on note cards to prompt you. This will help you avoid leaving out something important or taking too long on one point to the detriment of others. But if you know your material well enough, you may not need any help.

If you’re like some presenters I’ve seen, however, make sure you have a clock in front of you, so you don’t take 90 minutes to deliver a 60 minute talk. Or six minutes when you’ve been allotted two.

One way to prepare for your talk is to imagine yourself having a conversation with a friend. You make a point, they ask questions, and you respond. Not only will this allow you to inculcate your natural speech patterns into your talk, you might discover gaps in your material you need to fill.

The bottom line with most presentations isn’t the content, however. When your talk is done, most people won’t remember what you said. They will, however, remember how you made them feel, and the best way to make them feel good about you and your message is to talk with them, not at them.

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