In the fight for best speech-script font … It’s arial, by an arm

By David Murray, Editor, Vital Speeches of the Day

Boy oh boy. You ask speechwriters for their rhetorical philosophy, and you’re lucky to get a spam comment. But ask them what font they use for their speech script, and you’re drinking out of a fire hose.

U.S. Department of Commerce & Trade scribe Gregory Bell posed couple of weeks ago what he acknowledge was a “weird question.” He divulged that he’s been “thinking a lot about fonts,” and wondered what the most popular script font in the speechwriting community.

He volunteered that, though he writes his stuff in Times New Roman, most of his scripts are read in Arial.

I put the question to the speechwriting community. Of the nine speechwriters who weighed in on Bell’s question, four of them said they print their scripts in Arial. Two voted Garamond, one had Georgia on his mind, one had recently converted from Arial to Calibri and one said Verdana.

Okay, so the short answer is Arial.

But the long answer—well—discuss amongst yourselves:

Karen Wing uses Arial Bold 16 point—partly because in that font and size, “one page is generally one minute speaking time.”

“An old serif guy here for drafts,” said Fletcher Dean, citing Times as his default favorite. “But speech copy is usually Arial 20-point and above, depending on the client’s needs (eyesight) and lighting if we know it ahead of time.”

Brian Akre isn’t nuts about Garamond, but “it’s what our CEO likes, so it’s what he and everyone else gets.”

Jennifer Cramer uses Arial 12 for drafts and reviews, then bumps it up to 16-18 points for podium copy, which she double-spaces. “I often adjust line breaks in the final version to keep phrases together, with the goal of having natural pauses fall at the end of the line. And to emphasize alliteration, sets of three or other phrasing that relies on a specific cadence to be impactful, I indent and even stagger lines here and there. It makes the delivery more poetic when that’s important.”

Mark Fellows gets fancy too: “Lots of indenting with bullets and sub-bullets, and ellipses to signal pauses inside of sentences or to connect sub-bulleted series of connected points.”

And Brian Akre puts key phrases and words in boldface “in nearly every sentence” and uses lots of elipses for pauses and bullets for lists of more than two items.

Bill Bryant defends his use of Georgia, “because I think a serif font makes every letter distinguishable and the script easier to read from a podium.”

Another technique he uses to improve readability is adjusting the margins when he bumps up the font size from draft to podium copy. “Bottom margin is especially important,” he says. “I set it at 2 inches so the speaker’s eyes don’t move too low on the page and he or she risks losing contact with the audience.”

Nate Osburn had more to say.

I think it’s hard to beat something like Times New Roman or Garamond. Font size depends on visual needs of the speaker, but not too big—16 pt I think is good—or your sentences and speech will feel long to the speaker and that will translate into delivery. I’ve heard about sans serif becoming popular, but aren’t readability scores higher for serif fonts? I’m not sure. Sans serif seems to becoming more pervasive on the web, so that might be affecting speaker preferences.

 

Regardless of serif or sans serif, I recommend skinny fonts so that sentences and paragraphs and the entire speech don’t exhaust/confuse the speaker with line jumps, awkward page breaks, number of pages overall. 

 

When writing, however, I usually do 12-point font times new roman just for the ease of navigation when editing. And sometimes I remove all formatting (transcript style- no paragraph breaks) to get a stronger sense of how it will actually sound … and if there are inflection pitfalls that I can fix.  

 

Final step is to bump up the font size to podium-ready format and trim the fat. Superfluous words and unnecessary phrases become more apparent and stark when it’s in a bigger font. 

 

Are you quite through, Mr. Osburn?

 

“I had meant that to be a two-sentence response,” he said sheepishly.

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