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.