Practice Script

Emiko Hori is the author of Let’s Play Speech!: How to Give a Better Speech Using the Principles of Musical Performance, available on Amazon.

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Practice speaking with a script, by Emiko Hori

Some musicians memorize the music, some don’t. In the orchestra, performers usually do not memorize every symphony. That is normal. In a music ensemble, such as a trio, most musicians don’t memorize either.

In a trio or any other ensemble, the pianist usually has a page-turner. In fact, we often joke about a “full-time professional page-turner” who turns the page for renowned artists at Carnegie Hall and other major concert halls. Actually, being a piano page-turner for a famous artist is quite a privilege, because this person is sure to be treated well during the concert.

It is not an easy task to turn music for somebody else. Page-turning requires as much concentration as the pianist. If a turner gets lost in the middle of the music, it is then impossible to turn the page at the appropriate time. Amazingly, all of this activity happens in a split second. A turner cannot turn the page too far ahead of time, but neither can he or she turn the page when the last note of the page has been played. The art of turning must be “just right,” and the measure of this “just right” differs among pianists.

By comparison, in public speaking, nobody has a page-turner (wishful thinking here, isn’t it?). Obviously, we presenters have to flip our own script pages. Therefore, we need to practice how to be a page-turner.

The advantage here is that the presenter has much more control in turning his or her own pages on the stage than a pianist, and does not need to worry about the page-turner being sick or unable to follow a script.

A music stand (equivalent to “lectern” for a presentation) is usually a black metal rectangle (20.5? wide, 12.5? tall) with an adjustable post. Although a piano music stand is physically part of the piano, it is also a standard size; the width and height is pretty much universal no matter which country we go to.

Practicing turning our own script seems to be an easy task. However, it is not that easy. We need to make a conscious effort to flip it at the right moment at the right place. There are a lot of unknowns here:

• Does the facility even have a lectern? (That is the most critical question.)
• What kind of lectern does the event have?
• What is the height of the lectern?
• What is the width of the lectern?
• What is the shape of the lectern?
• What is the lectern made out of? Wood? Glass? Metal?
• Where is the lectern located? Center? Right? Left? Way in the back?
• Can we move the lectern ourselves to a desirable location?
• Who is going to place our script on the lectern?

For all of these questions, we need to be as mentally flexible as possible when we prepare for the presentation. Ask the meeting planner or facility manager ahead of time what kind of lectern they have. If that is not possible, you have to use your own imagination and be as adaptable as possible. If we want, we can use a music stand when we practice at home, and adjust the stand to various heights.

Being a concert performer, I learned that by memorizing sections where pages will be turned—the last line of the page as well as the first line of the following page—my performance will be more successful. This way, even when a page-turner happened to make a mistake, I could still perform my music smoothly.

In terms of public speaking, we have even more flexibility. We can create our script so that difficult sections of the presentation (e.g., referencing third party’s quotes, etc.) can be crafted literally in the middle of the page. So when we present that section, we do not have to worry about an interruption in the middle of a large segment. I learned this through my experience as a musician.

Musicians write many comments on their music score—where to breathe, finger numbers, and even color-codes as a reminder when to begin a new phrase. Speech presenters can adopt this technique as well. In the movie The King’s Speech (2010), I observed King George VI craft extensive notes, arrow signs, pauses, and checkmarks on his script for his famous 1939 radio broadcast “Britain’s declaration of War on Germany”. Speech is an art. Why not adopt these musician’s technique for your next presentation?

How large is the font of your script? If it is too small, you may end up squinting your eyes, which does not make a good impression on the audience, unless that is comically intentional. Printing the script in a large font, usually in the range of 14–20 for letter-size paper, is more desirable.

Crafting a speech while thinking about how to effectively present this script on stage is an art. By adopting some of the musician’s techniques, you will be able to achieve even greater success in your next presentation.

Emiko Hori is the author of Let’s Play Speech!: How to Give a Better Speech Using the Principles of Musical Performance, available on Amazon.

Follow Emiko at @EFunnygal.

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