In a Republican debate, Senator Marco Rubio had emerged as a great orator and touted his third place standing as a win. There was a lot of buzz about Rubio and he was riding high despite being number three. So it was no surprise that he walked into the next debate confident and expecting more of the same. And then it happened. Governor Chris Christie hammered him. Christie came down hard on Rubio for reciting his message point for a third time and accused him of being scripted. It didn't go well for Rubio and Christie won that round.
How can the skill of staying focused and on message be to the detriment of a public speaker? As a speaking strategist and media trainer, I advise my clients to know their message and to stay on message. This is especially important in a media interview. A skilled media guest will lead with key messages and weave them throughout the interview.
The red flag is when the presenter doesn't answer the question and defaults to a message that doesn't follow the line of questioning. What should Rubio have done? Answer the question to the best of his ability without repeating the same message point again.
Most of us won't be running for office or even presenting in a formal debate. But we will need to persuade, convince, and inform our stakeholders. I advise audiences and clients to familiarize, don't memorize. When a public speaker repeats the same points too close together and uses the exact same words, that's when authenticity is lost. That sounds scripted.
The first mistake is reading a manuscript word-for-word. It takes a special skill and much practice to deliver the words so it doesn't sound like you're reading text. Some scientific lecturers stand and read their research. I told them, "I can read as well as you." Why would anybody want to listen to the reading of a research paper?
The second mistake is memorizing word-for-word. Even though the presenter is not reading, it's obvious the message is not natural.
When I first started out in the speaking business, I worked for a seminar company. At the end of every seminar my manager and I would read the reviews. To my surprise, someone wrote, "Diane, though, helpful, sounded canned." Yikes! Put a stake in my heart. But I realized that I had memorized the script they gave me and I sounded like a talking head. With practice, I learned how to sound conversational and make the content natural.
Audiences are more sophisticated than ever. They want to hear a subject matter expert and not a presenter giving a book report. They want to know you're authentic. You achieve that by preparing your message, practicing your message, and listening for when to divert from the message. It's in listening that we become truly authentic.