No matter what kind of Development event you're planning, communication is key. You can plan the greatest event that is perfect in almost every way, but putting someone one stage who is unprepared will sour the entire event. Making sure that everyone is communicating the correct things in the correct way is one of the greatest delineating factors between compelling, dynamic events and those events that fail to meet expectations.
Most people's skin crawls at the idea of being constricted to a script, but I've seen that there is freedom in a script.
Because it's so crucial to communicate clearly, I always encourage teams to develop a thorough, word-for-word script of the whole program. *Insert your gasps here* I know - it's sacrilege. How could I possibly think that's a good idea? Won't a script make things feel way too...well...scripted? On the contrary, I'd actually like to make the argument that a well-executed script will lead to superior, clearly communicated message. Most people's skin crawls at the idea of being constricted to a script, but I've seen that there is freedom in a script.
DOWNSIDES TO GOING UNSCRIPTED
I'm sure you're not convinced, so let me take a moment to quickly highlight a few of the things that a script helps you to avoid.
Your Speakers Will Go Long - I've seen it happen so many times. To be honest, I've even made this mistake myself a few times. The person speaking has been doing it for years and you're afraid you'd offend them by asking them for a script. And, honestly, it might - many experienced speakers balk at the idea of a script. But (admitting a few notable exceptions) these people always go long.
The Message Will Be Unclear - The biggest reason those speakers run long is because they love to ad-lib. I can't tell you how many times I've been to a Vision Dinner or watched a Digital Event where an incredible, compelling message is ruined because the speaker decides they just have to throw in that unplanned story about their kids or the metaphor they came up with last night.
The Need Will Be Unclear - One of the most important aspects of any program is making sure your guests or viewers know what is being asked of them and how their gift might make an impact. When these sections aren't carefully scripted, guests miss important details.
For Digital Events, You'll Do A Lot More Filming and Editing - When filming your program, you're obviously hoping to get everything in as few takes as possible. But without a script, it will be much harder to get through each segment. Once you're finally done, you'll be faced with an editing nightmare because no two clips are the same. Wordings are ever-so-slightly different and there are potentially great sections that are ruined by the weird ad-lib your speaker tried to make.
As you would expect, each of these 4 items are also the strengths of using a script. But that doesn't fully address the problem I mentioned earlier. Don't scripted events always come off as stuffy, boring affairs? It's true - many scripted events fall into that trap - but there is another way. Here are a few key insights that will make sure your event gets the benefits of the script without the downsides.
It's true - many scripted events fall into that trap - but there is another way.
KEYS TO KEEPING YOUR EVENT FROM FEELING SCRIPTED
Practice, Practice, Practice. The reason that event you went to seemed like the person on stage was just reading a script is because...they were. It is crucial that you get the finished script to each person who will be speaking weeks in advance of the time they need to know it. It's obvious when someone is just reading something for the first, second, or even third time. But after 20, 30, or 50 times intentionally practicing the script your speaker will become comfortable with it to the point that they can truly make it their own.
Use a Teleprompter for Digital Events - Nowadays there are simple, free apps readily available to put your script right in front of the speaker while you record them. As long as the screen they're reading is close enough to the camera, no one will be able to tell they're not looking at the camera. On the contrary, I don't suggest letting speakers at live events bring the script up on stage if possible. It tends to distract them - they think, "Oh, I missed that sentence. Let me find it." At an in-person event, you want the speaker to know the script well enough to need nothing more than a basic outline in front of them.
Consider the Voice of the Speaker - There's nothing worse than hearing a Latino woman have to read the words that a white man wrote (or any other two people who aren't the exact same person). When crafting a script, you need to remember who will be speaking. Think about their personality and speaking style. Then (most importantly) ask them to give you edits. Have them read through what you've written and tell you when there's something that doesn't sound like them. Listen to them read through the script aloud while you're looking at the script and circle every place where they get tripped up - that's probably because the way you wrote it isn't natural for them.
***Note*** The main exception to the advice to push for a script is for the main speaker section of your script. While a script would absolutely be helpful for their time, it's not something we typically ask for (especially if they're not on staff with your organization. That said you still need to know what they will share. Meet with them beforehand or call them on the phone to have a discussion about what will be shared. If appropriate, you might also ask for a rough outline of what they plan on sharing to avoid surprises.
Taking these steps while writing your script will be a lot more work, but I promise that it will lead to much more effective communication, which almost always leads to a more effective event. Don't fall into the trap of trusting your speaker to be a professional. They may have done a lot of speaking in the past, but only you have the clear vision of what they need to provide - speaking at a Development event is unique from any other experience they might have.
When handled well, there is freedom in the script - believe me!