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  • Holly Blum, The Word Whisperer

Is It Okay to Read My Speech Off Paper?

When it’s time to deliver a speech, many people think they should be able to do it completely from memory, without notes or paper in front of them. They think it’s cheating if they have the speech written down and printed out. Or they think it looks less rehearsed and more spontaneous to be paper-free.

So what’s the right approach? Is it okay to read a speech off paper?

When it comes to celebrations, my simple answer is yes. Whether it’s time to toast your best friend on his wedding day, congratulate your son on his Bar Mitzvah or celebrate your Mom’s 70th birthday, it’s perfectly acceptable to use paper or index cards to keep you on track. Practically, having your speech in front of you takes the pressure off. If your nerves are firing or you forget what you want to say, you can simply look down and refresh your memory.

Avoid Memorizing

If you try to ditch the paper and memorize your speech, mental blocks become inevitable. Trust me, unless you’ve spent thousands of dollars in TED speaker training, it’s not a matter of “will” you forget; it’s a matter of when! A memorized delivery also runs the risk of making you sound stilted. It’s very easy to lose the inflection and tone that makes you sound fully present and engaged. When you’re trying so hard not to draw a blank or forget what you want to say, it’s harder to stay relaxed and sound like yourself.

Reading Isn’t The Same As Delivering

There’s one caveat to using paper worth pointing out— there’s a difference between reading a speech and delivering one. For the most part, guests at a special occasion want to listen to what you have to say and connect with it. What they don’t want is to watch you read off a piece of paper. It’s how you deliver your speech and engage the audience that matters, even if you have to occasionally look down at what’s written.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing your delivery in advance is absolutely essential. “Winging it,” similar to memorization, is not worth the gamble. Start by standing (not sitting) in front of a mirror with the piece of paper in front of you. Pay attention to how frequently you are looking up from the paper and whether you feel comfortable with your facial expressions. As your confidence increases, practice in front of one or two trusted friends or family members. Ask them to give you feedback on how often you’re looking at the paper, how often you’re making eye contact and whether your posture and hand gestures are appropriate. The goal is to deliver a speech that sounds like you’re having a polished conversation with the audience, not talking “at them” or reading in monotone.

Bottom line: I highly recommend using paper when giving a speech. So long as your eyes aren’t glued to it, nobody is going to think twice about it. Think of it like a security blanket—it’s there for you if and when you need it.

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