Stage fright attacks even the best of us. Standing in front of thousands of people, you forget all your lines. Your ex is sitting in the front row, making a disgusted face. And (of course) you're naked.
The booing begins as someone rushes the stage. Your keynote speech is going so terribly that you are actually grateful to see the nuclear explosion in the distance.
We've all had some variation of this nightmare.
The anticipation of being on stage makes most people nervous. Even more nerve wracking is the thought of having to give a great speech by memory.
Most speakers rely on teleprompters, powerpoint presentations, note cards, or even full paper scripts. When are these appropriate? And which is best?
The process of memorization can seem monotonous, but it's the most natural technique to choose when you have plenty of time to practice. This way, you become intimately familiar with your talk until it is second nature.
You're even minimizing your body's fight or flight response by knowing what comes next.
TED or public keynote speakers know the importance of connecting with an audience. Constantly referring to notes, PowerPoint slides, or note cards breaks the eye contact necessary to build trust. Without trust, there's no connection. Without connection, the audience isn't receiving your message.
If memorizing is not possible, then consider using the teleprompter, also known as a comfort monitor.
Here's when a teleprompter is best:
Your speech needs to be 100 percent scripted and polished.
This is necessary for many politicians, for news anchors, and for any situation where every word must be absolutely perfect.
You're an in-demand speaker.
If you are traveling and giving several speeches regularly with no time to properly memorize in between, then a teleprompter is the best way to stay organized and on-topic.
It's too late to memorize.
If you've simply run out of time to practice, it's far preferable to use a teleprompter than to stay up the night before trying to cram every line of your speech into your head. You need your sleep to be at your best in front of an audience.
It is always better to have something in your teleprompter than to have nothing.
This can beg the question, "Why don't I just wing it?"
My short answer is, "no." My long answer is, "For the love of all that is good, please no." I have witnessed too many speeches as they suddenly careen off topic, winding through strange emotional sharings, and finally crash into what I call "Uncanny Valley," when the speaker suddenly loses all traces of personality and stares at a strange space in the back of the room.
Even the great wordsmith Mark Twain has famously commented, "It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech."
If you do decide to use a teleprompter, it is still essential to practice.
Become familiar with the space and the technology you will be using. It's especially important to time the cadence of the teleprompter to your comfort and be aware that these can vary for each type. Rehearse aloud, giving yourself an opportunity to safely make mistakes and correct them before an audience sees them.
You'll know you've practiced enough when your speech sounds authentic and you are not reading verbatim. This will help you to truly be present as you present.
Though you will probably be tempted to load every brilliant word into the teleprompter, using simple phrases as cues will help you avoid seeming robotic and stiff.
As you cue up your teleprompter, remember that your audience will always resonate with a well-delivered message. No one has ever said, "wow they memorized that well."
Whatever you choose, the bottom line is to remain calm, organized, and to practice at least a few times in order to avoid the nightmare scenario above. And do remember to put your clothes on!