In a recent post on his well-read blog, marketing guru Seth Godin went after script-writing, pointing out that most people who are reading a speech don’t sound natural. His advice:
Learn to read the same way you speak (unlikely)
or, learn to speak without reading. Learn your message well enough that you can communicate it without reading it. We want your humanity.
If you can’t do that, don’t bother giving a speech. Just send everyone a memo and save time and stress for all concerned.
Naturally, a speechwriter isn’t gonna like that advice, and freelancer Erick Dittus goaded Godin on Facebook.
Well, well I finally read a Seth-bite and found him to be wanting. Yes, it’s extremely difficult “to read” a speech well. That’s why people do things called “practice” and “rehearse.” I know in the instant world of on-line, “talk from my heart” blogging that this may seem strange. But rehearsing, and then reading pieces of a well-written (for your voice) script or speech is probably the best way to go.
Great leaders from Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Truman, and Kennedy to Ronald Reagan and yes, even Dr. Martin Luther King, often worked from a script for major speeches. If you’re a marketer just selling goodies … to others who have never or rarely experienced a great speech … just talk that message. But if you wanted it to last a while, a well-written and well-practiced script is the way to go.
Dittus thinks I should respond to Godin, but I can’t say much more than he has here.
(Okay, one more thing: After I deliver my “Speechwriting Jam Session” of great speeches from history, someone inevitably comes up afterward and points out that most of the speeches I cite weren’t written by speechwriters, but by the speakers themselves. I shrug and I smile. Yes, the very best speeches occur when the speaker, whispered to by God himself, spontaneously streams pure literature from his or her mind and soul. It’s the rest of the speeches we’re dealing with, everybody. And deal with them—as speechwriters, as speakers, as audiences—we must.) —DM