Good Penmanship for Public Speakers

The pen is mightier than the sword; but when it comes to public speaking, an empty hand is mightier than the pen.

Sometimes, a speaker will take the stage holding a pen and deliver the entire speech or presentation without ever writing a single word. Yet all the while, the pen is omnipresent, moving up and down and back and forth like a miniature conductor’s baton. And if the speaker begins to fiddle with the pen, things can go from bad to worse.

Speaking while holding a pen is something to avoid for several reasons:

1.  A pen adds no value.

2.  A pen is distracting.

3.  A pen limits your ability to gesture effectively.

4.  Holding a pen can be habit-forming and become a “crutch”.

5.  Things can get messy. I once saw a person fiddle with a pen to such an extent that it actually leaked onto his hand. At least that got him to put the pen down.

The only time you should hold a writing instrument when presenting is when you are actually using it to write or draw. (And it probably won’t be a pen; it will more likely be a marker of some kind.) Thus, if you are using a white board or a flip chart, by all means, hold the marker, especially if you alternate between writing and speaking; for example, if you are sketching out a multi-stage process schematic. In such cases, repeatedly picking the marker up and putting it down can be more distracting than just holding it.

But please be discrete. Don’t wave the marker about. Use it to point out things that you have just written if you like, but never point it at anyone in the audience. If you are going to talk for an extended period before writing again, I suggest capping the marker and putting it down or in your pocket.

Ultimately, your goal should be to minimize the time spent with a marker or other writing instrument in your hand. When you’re on stage, you’re a speaker, not a writer.

Photo courtesy of World Economic Forum

About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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4 Responses to Good Penmanship for Public Speakers

  1. Pingback: Good Penmanship for Public Speakers | Manner of Speaking | Watch Friends Digitalsmiths

  2. Donn King says:

    Such a little thing, and yet such an easy way to distract an audience! Good advice, John, and one I can apply right away. Thanks!

  3. Pingback: Good Penmanship for Public Speakers | Manner of Speaking | Cruises From New York

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