(This is Part 8 in the Communicator’s University series. Read Part 7 here.)
You can read while you speak, and it’s less complicated than chewing gum and walking at the same time. As a matter of fact, reading short segments of some illustrative material is an extremely effective way to communicate–if done well. Good speakers get to move their lips while they read! They pick up a book or an article or a printed sheet–or they turn around and read from a projection screen.
First the why, then the how.
Advantages of Illustrating by Reading
- It helps to maintain audience attention because it causes the speaker to shift their vocal energy–changing it up a little bit.
- It helps to maintain audience attention because listeners visually focus on something else for a little while.
- It is precise and succinct.
- It can add dramatic or humorous impact.
So, include reading short segments in your speaking from time to time, but do it well. Here’s how:
How to Read Well While Speaking
- Prepare properly by practicing the segment out loud, several times, until you get it exactly right. If you don’t get it exactly right, as it appears in print, you’ll feel and look like the singer who forgets the words to the national anthem.
- Limit your segment to 45 seconds. That number is arbitrary, but you know what I mean. Speakers will easily lose listeners if they go too long. What might be clear to us isn’t nearly as clear to our hearers, so we can’t take them on a meandering story that spins their mind.
- If you go 46 or more seconds, pause and be extemporaneous in the middle. Put it down, look at the crowd, and segue by saying, “OK, now catch this…” and continue.
- Edit. You don’t have to read it all. You can say, “A little later on the author puts it this way…” and continue.
- My personal opinion is that you’ll do better to have hard copy in your hand rather than from reading from a device.
So be aware when you come across an article or a book passage that can serve as your illustrative material. And then consider if it would best be re-told or read as it appears. Both work well, but one might work better for your particular purpose.