Most of us have suffered through people reading badly. Here are some reasons that happens:
• The speaker loses normal inflection. Like people who have memorized their speech, people who read aloud often lose touch with the ideas behind the words. You can easily tell if that happens: listen for pauses. Natural speaking is filled with them; unnatural reading isn't.
• The text isn't spoken language. Too often speakers write their speeches in "businessese"—that difficult gobble-dygook that's hard enough for us to read, much less listen to.
• The speaker is static. The potted plant will probably move more. There is little movement, little energy, little visual interest behind the lectern.
• There's no eye contact. Any eye contact is with the text, not with the audience. Gestures are limited to adjusting eyeglasses.
• The speaker is scared. Often speakers decide to read their speech because they're afraid to try anything else. They know that reading will fail, but at least it will fail with a small "f" rather than a capital one.
But reading isn't always bad. (Just almost always.) Sometimes speakers simply have to read: they're announcing a precise policy; timing a short presentation down to the second; talking to speakers of English as a second language and avoiding colloquialisms; or attempting the kind of eloquence that rarely happens without the exact words. Fortunately, there are some ways for reading aloud to be successful.
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