When you’ve been asked to give a speech at a special event, it’s very tempting to test fate and “wing it.” After all, you don’t want to sound overly scripted, so maybe you write down a few bullet points and see what happens. You know exactly what you want to say in your head, so how bad can it be? Trust me, it can be very bad. And go from bad to worse pretty quickly.
When you are asked to speak on someone else’s behalf remember that this person has selected you to represent them on an important day. Whether it’s a wedding, anniversary or other celebration, the stakes are high for you to deliver in a big way. So if you’re thinking about winging it, think again. Here’s why.
You will sound unprepared. No matter how skilled you are at speaking in front of a crowd, if you don’t take the time to collect your thoughts and write them down you will sound unprepared. And think about the message that sends to the guest of honor. It says that you did not think it was worth it to take the steps needed to think through your speech ahead of time.
It won’t flow the way you want. While your intentions may be good, trusting what you say to the ideas and memories swirling around in your head is typically a recipe for disaster. A good speech needs to have structure to tell a memorable story and resonate with the crowd. Without taking the time to write it down you cannot possibly make sure that it flows well.
You will inevitably forget what you want to say. Even if you practice what you want to say in your head, when you stand up to take the microphone you will inevitably feel nervous. Emotions tend to be high during life’s major milestones and emotions can alter your thoughts and words. As a result, you may freeze up, leave out something important or include something irrelevant.
You will stumble and mumble. Preparing a speech in advance helps to cut down on the number of “ums” and “uhs” that can negatively impact the rhythm of a speech. When you leave your speech to chance, you will likely find yourself stumbling and mumbling your words and thoughts. While uncomfortable for the speaker, this is actually more painful for the crowd who has to listen.
You will exceed your time limit. When you don’t plan out what you want to say in advance, you can’t know how long your speech will take. As a general rule, speeches should be no more than five minutes. But if you wing it, it will be challenging to know how long you are actually talking. And chances are, you will wind up running way over your time limit.
You won’t have the benefit of a test drive. The best speeches are rarely delivered without careful preparation and practice. This means rehearsing over and over--aloud in front of a mirror and in front of a few trusted friends. This gives you the advantage of testing out your material before the big day. This allows you to get a feel for what works well and what might need some tweaking. Standing up to deliver a speech without being able to anticipate what will resonate is risky.
It’s okay to wing certain things in life, but speeches shouldn’t be on the list. When it’s time to give a speech, give yourself ample time to think, draft and re-draft. Ironically, the more you prepare and rehearse the more natural you will be able to sound. When you know your speech inside and out, you put yourself in the best possible position to shine and deliver a true speech to remember.