The Manuscript Presentation: When and How

Most speakers should avoid the manuscript presentation at all cost. A manuscript speech usually promotes no eye contact, a monotone voice, and few gestures. The audience understands that the speaker is reading to them and may be thinking, “Why didn’t she just email it to me to read on my own?”

However there are exceptions. If you are eulogizing someone, if you offer information that could be misquoted or misunderstood, or if you are too busy to prepare the speech and need to use a speechwriter, use a manuscript.

When you deliver a manuscript speech, these techniques will help you avoid the problems listed above. Use a font size which is easy for you to see and double or triple space. Print only on the top two thirds of each page to avoid the audience seeing only the top of your head by the time you get to the end of the page. Eye contact is much easier when you use these methods.

Include symbols above words where you want to make eye contact, use a gesture, take a step, or speed up or slow down. Don’t use words to remind you or you may accidentally speak the reminder words. Be creative with your drawings. For example, you might draw a waving hand, a megaphone, or a pair of eyes. I give more suggestions in From Dull to Dynamic.

Underline words which you want to emphasize. With difficult words to pronounce, write the way it is pronounced phonetically above the word. Read through the script, and if you stumble over certain words or phrases, include a synonym instead or find another way of saying the same point.

Practice a minimum of three times. Never deliver the manuscript without practicing aloud and in front of someone to give you feedback.  The more you practice, the more you will achieve your own voice and the less you will put your audience to sleep by reading in a monotone.

A speech writer who did not like the politician for whom he wrote knew the speaker never read the script before he delivered it. On one occasion when he stood to speak the speechwriter had as the last sentence on page one, “These three points I am about to give you are the most important ideas I will speak to you today. “  As he turned the page, it was blank except for these words, “You are on your own. I quit.”

If you have a speechwriter, treat him or her well, and use a manuscript only under special conditions.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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