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>Son of a Preacher Man

>I’m spending Richard Peck’s summer vacation editing his Sutherland Lecture for publication in the November HB. It’s a great speech–Peck has always been among the best of our writer-speakers–and his epigrammatic style can be pure poetry. I’m working directly from the speech manuscript, and I’ve never seen one quite like it, with the paragraphs carefully subdivided into clauses, giving it the cadences of a well-wrought sermon and the rhythm of a verse novel. Peck has an instinct for formal shape, in his poetry and short stories as well as his novels, so I guess it’s no surprise his speeches have the same discipline.

Cathy Mercier swears I once gave a one hour talk at Simmons from three words written on an index card but I know I’ll never be that good (or nervy) again. I find in my twilight years that I really need to have the whole damn thing in front of me. What methods do you-all use? Full text, cards, outline? Do you wing it? And how do we feel about PowerPoint?

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >I had always been a notecard kind of gal until I taught my first college class and did something I never did before when presenting. I panicked. And my lecture left my brain.

    Now I write/type everything out or at least have a very detailed outline. I seldom use it, but it is my security blanket.

  2. >Holy crap–wing it? I would not dare.

    I am not a great fan of Powerpoint, but I use it to show pictures of covers and interior art if I am talking about books. I think it helps the audience to relax a bit with their bibliography if they can see the title and the cover.

    KT Horning was a tremendous help to me the first times I gave speeches to a large audience–she has a handy calculus for figuring out how many pages her speech needs to be to fill up the allotted time.

    I like things written. Every word. Spaces for pauses too.

    I would love to see the speech Mr. Peck wrote. It would be a lovely visual. Please tell me he used a typewriter. I imagine he is a bit of a Luddite, like me.

  3. Anonymous says:

    >As a presenter, I can see the dangers of power point, and I apologize to anyone I have bored with one damn slide after another, but as an audience member — I admit that I have the attention span of a toddler. Having an eye-catching visual that changes often, really draws me back in when I wander, and keeps me focused. Oooh, sparkly! Tell me more about the affects of magnetism on bifurcation in planeria!


  4. Barbara O'Connor says:

    >Every word. Typed. In HUGE font so I can see it. And double spaced. So when I walk up to the podium, it looks like my speech is about 80 pages long and folks start looking nervous, like maybe they better go use the restroom before I start.

    I like PowerPoint, if it’s fun photos or something to enhance the talk or offer some comic relief.

  5. James A. Owen says:

    >I always wing it (sometimes asking for a topic after being introduced – then, well, running with it). I used to prepare notes, but always got tied up in paying too much attention to the notes.

    So – wing it. Which has turned into a plus, apparently, since the exchanges are typically:

    “Hi. We’d like to have James come speak to our group.”

    “Great! We’ll set it up.”

    “What will he be speaking on?”

    “We have no idea.”

    “Fine. Does he prefer chicken or steak?”

    Anyway, so far, so good.

  6. GraceAnne LadyHawk says:

    >I write it out. Every single word. I read it over and over so I can give it forth without reading it, but I write it all out. And cling to it like the talisman it is.

    I like it when other folks use a little PowerPoint, but not me. I like to talk, and I want the audience to be there with me, looking at me, listening to me. In my defense, I always try to wear interesting scarves and jewelry so they have something to look at.

    A few times I have had to stand in front of the podium which was too high for me to stand behind without turning into a tiny bobbing head.

  7. Anonymous says:

    >I agree that Richard Peck delivers a magnificent speech, every time one hears him, and he rarely seems to even glance at his notes. But I think there’s another component to this, along with his being such a fine writer: his evident high regard and respect for his audience. That quality comes shining through, even if one is in the seat way back behind the pillar.

    I, too, print out every word of a speech in large font.

    Susan Patron

  8. Anonymous says:

    >I prefer the middle-of-the-road approach: a good solid outline (and yes to the comments about large font!)

    With an outline, you stay on track, don’t leave out any important points, but can look more at your audience and the speech feels more personal. It allows for a little spontaneity, if you are so moved, but is a solid safety net.

    By the way, editor Cheryl Klein has some great examples of speech outlines on her Editorial Website, “Talking Books.”

    Barb Kerley

  9. Elizabeth says:

    >I’ve been read to too many times, and I don’t consider that hearing a speech, unless the person giving it is truly masterful. I sort of absorbed my dad’s method. He was a professor and much in demand as a lecturer, (probably because he could tell a great story and was very funny). He was also well informed, and the speeches were carefully crafted to lead to a powerful point. I remember him saying “I have to go write my speech” and an hour or so later, after sitting in a chair in the living room, he would have a bunch of notes on a yellow legal pad. I still have some of those “speeches,” and they read like this “Why no Reaganomics?/1972 census/Twain/neibuhr pacifism/ Levitt globalization/Betty’s shoes…”

    He never wrote it all out, and neither do I. When I do write it out, it sounds like I’m reading, instead of speaking to the audience.

    By the way, Dad was a genuinely gifted speaker, but merely a capable writer, while his good friend, Ted Levitt, won dozens of writing awards and wrote some extremely influential articles. But Ted was a long-winded, rambling speaker. The question for me is, who besides Peck combines both talents so well? Maybe Linda Sue Park, who gave my favorite Newbery speech?

  10. >Just like when I write books, I outline my speeches. Then, once I begin, I meander and take side trips and ignore it completely. But I usually end up at the end somehow.

  11. >I think it’s fine to write out a speech as a starting point, but PLEASE don’t read to the audience. If I want to hear someone’s written word I’ll read their books. Greg

  12. Elizabeth Bluemle says:

    >Ahh, Richard Peck. You just relax when you start reading pretty much anything he’s written; you know you’re in the hands of a master.

    About speeches – I always write notes, and then tend to deviate from them so that the delivery is as fresh as possible (without losing sight of the points I hope to make). However, if a talk is especially important, I tend to stick closer to the text. Never just read it from the cards, though.

    I do like PowerPoint because I visualize structure best in storyboard form, and it helps me organize my thoughts. But I only use it when my presentation depends on visual elements, not when the images are mere lagniappe.

    In answer to another Elizabeth’s question — “…who besides Peck combines both talents so well?” — I’d say that Katherine Paterson and Kate DiCamillo are two of the best speakers I’ve ever heard. Masters of making you laugh, think, be moved, and leave the talk inspired.

    — Elizabeth B.

  13. janeyolen says:

    >I write it all out so I can occasionally take detours. Love the q&a part of speaking which is where I dive in without notes or a life jacket.


  14. Andy Laties says:

    >When I’m on stage it’s theater because I spent years as a children’s theater actor and I’ve been trained in comedy improv.

    When I do have a gig, I prepare by worrying about it endlessly, especially in the middle of the night, and by speaking out loud in the car wherever I’m driving.

    I have no clue what I’m actually going to say until I’m saying it. After a lecture, I don’t know what I just said.

  15. >I also do Improv, so I wing it. If it’s a really important speech, I’ll take a walk or two by myself, talking out loud to an imaginary audience, getting the timing down before the the big moment.

  16. >depends on the context. sometimes i have bullet points, and sometimes i write the whole thing out. HUGE font so i don’t have to strain when i’m looking down.

    a lot of it for me comes down to engaging the audience while i’m talking, looking at them and their reactions. my experience as a musician has proven to be a great help here.

    no way would i ever use power point.

  17. >Having spent way too much time in school recently, I really think Power Point has to be one of the worst things to happen to higher education.

    If you’re just going to read me your slides, which will then be posted online, why did I drive an hour to get to class?

    That said, all my recent speeches have required me to use Power Point.

    I’m a few notes/bullet points type of gal when it comes to speech making. Power Point makes me throw a few more things on the slide, and then I just wing it from there. I only have notes if I’m quoting some statistic that isn’t on the slide…

  18. Anonymous says:

    >I’m not an academic, but speaking as a working preacher who has to preach a different sermon every week — I write the whole thing out on Thursday, rewrite it Sat. eve., another rewrite Sun. a.m., then read from a full text. I treat the reading text a little like a jazz lead sheet, so about 1/3 of any given sermon is improvised. In my religious tradition I’m expected to give well-researched, “learned” sermons, so I can’t rely on oral fomulae as works for some religious traditions.

    I’ve tried preaching from notes/outline, but find it actually takes longer to prepare that way — an hour of prep per minute of sermon (including study) if preaching from notes, half that preaching from full text. (If I were in a religious tradition with a strong oral tradition, of course that would not be true.)

    As for Powerpoint — did you know that Sun Microsystems has banned all Powerpoint presentations, because top managment there felt Powerpoint led to sloppy thinking? Personally, I would agree with that assessment….

    My $.02 worth.
    Dan from New Bedford

  19. >I used to speak from an outline on notecards but I was always uncomfortable. I always felt as if I was struggling to recall what the notes were supposed to be reminding me of, and it wasn’t unusual for me to skip things.

    Then a number of years ago I went to a storytelling workshop at a NESCBWI conference. I told the instructor about my problem with performance anxiety, and she suggested writing out the entire presentation and treating it as a script. She said to practice, practice, practice so that I could memorize as much as possible.

    So I do speak from a complete text (typed out with a larger font), but I’m able to speak for chunks of time without referring to it. I also try to think of in terms of story instead of “speech.”

    This works particularly well when I’m working in a school where I’ll give the same presentation four or five times in one day.

  20. Among Amid While says:

    >I write it all out, and then I revise it to untie the linguistic knots and make it sound more conversational, so that people feel less as if they’re being read to.

    But actually, I quite like being read to. But not, it’s true, by a nervous, formal-sounding person who doesn’t want to meet my eye.

  21. >I have been creating power point presentations for churches for over 6 years as well as graphic design. I have started a company called “Praise Presenation Services” that will actually create a very taylored, profession power point show for pastors, who just want to email a title, some scriptures, and some points to someone and be done with it. We email a professional slide show back as an attachment in 24hrs. Some churches use the services weekly, others just as the need arises. If you have any questions about using power point or about the service, you can email me at

  22. weber lover says:

    >hey what is up this is very cool

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