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Phoning it in

woman speaker consulting cell phoneHow handy. You have a phone, much more compact than a piece of paper, and much smarter. With this, you can scroll through page after page of notes as you talk, never having to shuffle through cards or paper and never getting anything out of order.

But there’s a big problem with that technique: the audience will hate it. They came to hear you speak, not to watch you read. You squint, you scroll, and you let everyone know how poorly you prepared. Whenever you focus your attention on anything but your audience, you lose a measure of their respect. When they see you looking down at a smart phone, it’s even worse.

Though only about 10 years old, smart phone technology is notorious for cutting its users off from reality. We harshly criticize drivers who consult a phone while behind the wheel. We disparage people who take a phone call during a dinner date. We demand everyone silence their phones in class or when viewing a play. We have been conditioned to despise the sight of anyone gazing at a phone when they are supposed to be looking at us.

I recently saw a speaker do that very thing, using a smart phone as reference for his talk. It was off-putting and did not help his talk in the least.

This is not to say that you can’t prepare a script. As a speaker, you should plan, make your case, plot your stories, and craft language that appeals to the senses. But once you have done that, you should practice it until you no longer need the script.

When you deliver a talk, have nothing on hand other than your talking points, written on 3 x 5 cards that can be drawn discretely from your pocket, briefly glanced at, and put aside as you do what you came to do: make eye contact and speak to those you came to persuade.