Your First Speech, Kate Middleton, President Obama, and the Teleprompter

Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, who is currently half of England’s most adorable royal couple, gave her first public speech yesterday.  Don’t envy her!  Where the rest of us have an audience of maybe a score or a hundred for our first speeches, Kate had the entire world

How did she do?   She was adorable.  She was OK.  She was….the Duchess of Cambridge.  The speech was halting, because she read her brief comments, and had to keep looking down to get the next sentence.   That was a bit awkward.  She was obviously nervous.  But she made up for that with her charm.   

Her best moment came when she mentioned missing her husband, who’s on duty in the Falklands at the moment.  The audience reacted, she gave a genuine smile, and it was very sweet.  

OK, so she’ll gain confidence and get over the reading thing.  Perhaps she’ll get used to having a real conversation with her audiences, so that she can work from a few notes or none at all.  Memorization would be second best – and a distant second, because it’s hard work, she’s liable to forget, and people who memorize their speeches usually come off as stiff and inauthentic. 

As I was watching her, I was thinking about teleprompters.  Teleprompters make weak, nervous speakers look better.  Past a certain point of experience, though, and they drag all but the most eloquent speakers down.  Consider all the criticism President Obama has faced for not being as eloquent now that he’s President as he was on the campaign trail.

That’s because, on the campaign trail, he gave basically the same speech over and over and over again.  He got good at it.  Now, he’s gives a speech or two a day, with very little prep, and he’s reliant on the teleprompter.  It’s keeping him from reaching the emotional highs and connections he made with his audiences on the campaign trail. 

Let’s be clear:  there’s no shame in using a teleprompter.  It’s just a way of putting a speech text up in front of your eyes so you don’t have to look down every few seconds like Kate Middleton. 

Teleprompters are now less than $200 for the portable kind.  So if you’re a nervous, weak speaker, or you’re just starting out, or you have to give lots of speeches, consider using one.  It will keep you on track, and you won’t have to put your head down every few seconds like the Duchess of Cambridge.  In that way, you’ll maintain your contact with the audience. 

But if you’re a practiced, frequent speaker, and you have the time to master your material, then work from notes or memory and avoid the teleprompter.  It will only drag you down.  

 

Comments

  1. says

    I find the challenge is that I give lots of different speeches, not totally different, but variations on several themes, aimed at different, but not totally different, audiences, and of course I customize for each audience. I do 3-4 speeches a month, and memorizing each variation is just about impossible. Sections of speeches, I know by heart (stories I use repeatedly, for example) and of course I walk away from notes then, but I find myself using notes often, sometimes bringing the whole text with me. And a teleprompter seems like overkill for a small audience. (I speak to groups of 30-200, on average.)
    Any suggestions?

  2. says

    Hi, Susan –
    In your case we would recommend designing a basic speech with segments and customizable areas. Over time (quite quickly, given that you’re speaking about 1x week) you’d learn the basic speech and flow. Then, you’d work from a very simple set of notes for the customization. We do this sort of thing often for professionals who speak 1, 2 or 3x per week and it greatly reduces the stress and still allows you to customize for particular audiences.
    Comfort monitors or teleprompters (with those notes on them) might be overkill for a group of 30, but not necessarily for 200. So that’s also an option.

  3. says

    Hi Nick
    Thanks for the great analysis. I was doing the live sound feed for this speech so I was standing about 12ft in front of her and next to the cameras. I thought it might be interesting to expand on this so you know a few of the practical things going on that aren’t apparent on screen. The room wasn’t very big and was a very odd shape. There were a relatively small number of people between Kate and the cameras and the majority of the audience were to her right and to her extreme left. She works hard to address everyone, possibly to the detriment of the broadcast, but then she was being personable to the live audience.
    I also noticed that she was standing close to the lectern. I think she is about 5’10” tall and she was wearing very high heels. It was a long way to look down to those notes! It shows in the broadcast and she has to move her head rather than just dropping her eyes. I guess if she was more relaxed she would probably stand back a bit. I often come across presenters who say they are going to move around all over the stage but when they start the presentation they grab hold of the lectern and cling on for dear life!
    Interestingly the pauses where written into the text in capitals but the laughter after the mention of William was unexpected as there was only a semicolon. The initial pause was marked up as three seconds (not broadcast). That would feel like a life time!
    You can see the massive relief when she got to the end and afterwards she was incredibly relaxed when meeting and talking to the audience. If she can deliver a speech to that standard under all that pressure then it bodes well for the future.

  4. says

    Adam –
    Thanks for the fascinating insights from the inside. Every speaker has to learn to work the room — even if it’s awkwardly shaped. But it’s tough to face that on your first time out!
    You’re absolutely right about the head vs. the eyes. If she had stood further away, and only had to move her eyes down, it would have been less jarring. But the podium provides security and it’s hard to resist!
    I agree with you — I think her future is very, very bright.
    Thanks again.

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