How to Command Your Script

By Tom Henschel, Executive Coach

Initially, Nigel wanted help with memorization. He had a firm belief that people would experience him as a better presenter if he memorized his material. So he tried.

But the world of work moves fast. He wasn’t able to memorize everything that came his way. He felt his anxiety rise and his performance slip. He even began to lose sleep over the issue. He wanted me to help him memorize more material faster.

I apologized and said I had to take the other side of the debate. I would argue for LESS memorization, not more.

I went on to say that if his experience was like most people I work with, memorization would increase, not decrease, tension. Most people, when asked to memorize something to say, tense up like they’re about to try and lift a car. 

Additionally, I suggested that most people who recited memorized words are pretty easy to spot. And they’re usually not particularly engaging. That’s because speaking memorized words in an engaging way is what actors train for years to do, and not everyone has a gift for acting. 

Nigel understood my suggestion to memorize less, but, he said, no matter how much memorization stressed him out, it stressed him out even more to imagine there wouldn’t be any script at all for him to memorize from!

I said it didn’t have to be that way and taught him a trick to help relax his fear of “improvising.”

I asked him to picture the script for his next presentation. Everything he’d normally memorize was laid out in front of him. 

His task now was to look at all those words and begin to cluster them by ideas. Sort all the words into separate chunks. Maybe those two paragraphs are the greeting. Maybe this whole page is about the company’s culture. 

Now I asked him to imagine putting the separate chunks of words into folders of their own. Each chunk gets its own folder and every folder gets a label. 

Now, I told him, that’s what he would work from. Instead of a script he had a series of labels. Each label would trigger the ideas inside the folder. As a subject matter expert, he didn’t need to memorize any words: he could explain the ideas inside each folder in his own words. Just memorize the labels, I encouraged.

Nigel tried it and it worked for him. He found it freeing to only have to remember the labels. He developed an idea he called his slalom course.  

He would list the labels on a piece of paper. Then, in his imagination, he would enlarge each label until it became a broad banner hanging between two poles, like a gate in a race. He imagined himself skiing under the banner, then seeing the next banner hung over the next gate. And he’d ski towards it. 

Nigel agreed that sorting and labeling his ideas in this new way was way better than memorizing an entire script. And he delightedly reported that his sleep had been restored. 

To learn more about commanding your script and becoming a stronger, more engaging leader, contact Tom  for a consultation.