Public Speakers, Preachers and Politicians: It's Time to Stop Reading Your Speeches

With the possible exception of TV news anchors or others who have to relay vast amounts of unfamiliar material, I say down with TelePrompters, and most of all down with reading speeches. For whatever reason, I’m finding more and more academics, preachers, public speakers – and yes, the President of the United States – becoming totally addicted to reading speeches. Speaking on behalf of the audience, I can tell you that it’s a miserable experience.

College professors show up at academic conferences and read (yes, literally read) their research papers. Could anything be more agonizing to listen to? Public officials bore us to tears with their eyes glued to the podium reading the cards. Agree or not, even the President loses enormous respect when audiences feel like he’s just reading something a speechwriter wrote for him.

I was visiting a church recently who was interviewing a candidate to become their new pastor. Everyone loves him. His credentials are impeccable, his experience is solid, and his integrity is without question. His only problem? When he preaches, he never looks up. Ever. He looks down, rather than looking directly into his audience’s eyes.

As a result, he probably won’t get the job.

In college, I had a earth science professor who walked into class, opened a notebook, and literally read for an entire hour.  Every class. Never looked up, and never took questions.  When he was finished, he closed the notebook and walked out.  You call that teaching?

I’m calling speakers, preachers, teachers, and politicians, back to being real.  Back to spontaneity. When you prepare, write your speech out if you like. Make an outline or other kind of notes. But whatever you do, when its time to deliver – be yourself. Cut loose. Break the addiction. We don’t care if you make a few mistakes, or feel awkward at times.

Public speaking is an art that requires your entire body. You want to read your speech? Fine. Print it out and hand it to me, and don’t force me to sit through the agony of listening to you read for an hour.

Am I the only one who’s seeing the rise of reading on stage?

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Phil Cooke
Phil Cooke is the founder and CEO of Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California (cookepictures.com)where he helps church, ministry, and nonprofit organizations engage the culture more effectively. He's a filmmaker, media consultant, and author of "Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media."