Authentic Stories vs. Canned Stories

December, 16 2013

People reading out loud is a turn off for me.

Don’t get me wrong– James Earl Jones can read me anything (the phone book, blender instructions, my credit card bill) — I’d be thrilled. My sweetie pie reading Robert Frost to me aside a warm, crackling fire would be nice. Okay, I’m sure there are some other exceptions, too.

But I’m talking about human to human communication here. If people want to communicate with me, I’d rather they not read a prepared statement. If they really want to capture my attention, hold my attention, and maybe even make me lean in– they need to speak to me from the heart.

Some great actors can make the written word jump off the page. Some great orators can make the teleprompter disappear. But most folks — it’s not so easy. Our attempts to make the written word engaging so often fall flat. The results sound stiff, limp, or canned.

So here’s the challenge: how can you stay on message AND speak from the heart?

My trick of the trade draws on my theatre background, and goes back to 16th century Italy. Actors in the Commedia dell’arte travelled from town to town presenting theatre. But the plays were not set, not written down. Rather, they were improvised from outlines.


The performers had a good sense of what was going to happen and what they were going to say and do, but they had to adjust their performances to the reality of the moment. Each day was different, each town square was different, each rowdy audience was different, and their fellow masked actors were doing things differently. They were forced to pay attention and forced to modulate their performances and spoken words to what was really going on.

An outline is like a road map. You’ll get to your destination, but the exact route will vary. Tree fallen on the road? Take a different street. Feeling like the scenic route today? Go for it.

An outline allows you to modulate your message according to the actuality of the moment. When used correctly, speaking from an outline produces a more natural delivery, and the words are more apt to come from the heart.

If all else fails… just channel James Earl Jones.

- Keith

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