Before you address an audience of one or 100, know your goal and prepare an outline to stay on track. Start with simple ideas and add complex points (evidence, details, case studies) gradually.
Consider the pros and cons of four formats:
1. Impromptu remarks. If you speak off the cuff, you must possess vast experience and knowledge of the topic. Otherwise, you might say something you regret later or come across as disorganized.
Pros: You can engage listeners and interact more freely. You also sound fresher, less rehearsed and more believable.
Cons: If distracted, you can lose your train of thought and misspeak. And if you feel you must always find just the right word, you can sputter and restart your sentences.
2. Extemporaneous talks. Unlike impromptu comments, extemporaneous remarks are prepared ahead of time. You might jot an outline and glance at it occasionally as you speak.
Pros: You gain confidence by referring to a written road map. Yet you still sound relatively natural, because you have leeway to speak conversationally without adhering to a script.
Cons: Even with a basic outline, you can draw a blank. Or you may go off on tangents and make it hard for others to follow your remarks.
3. Scripted speeches. In some situations, every word carries weight. The stakes are high and you cannot afford to improvise. That’s when a manuscript makes sense.
Pros: You speak with precision and use carefully chosen phrases to address delicate or controversial issues.
Cons: You may sound robotic and lapse into a monotone. It’s also easy to lose eye contact when you’re looking down to read text.
4. Memorized presentations. To impress an audience, you write your entire remarks and then practice, practice, practice. This allows you to appeal directly to others without notes, slides or index cards.
Pros: You can move around a stage without feeling chained to a lectern. And you can gauge your effectiveness by observing how listeners respond to your comments.
Cons: No matter how much you rehearse, you might forget what to say. This can lead to a meltdown or at least undermine your command of the audience.
— Adapted from Small Message, Big Impact, Terri Sjodin, Portfolio.