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To script or not to script? That is the question


If you're new to podcasting, this might be something you're wrestling with. Is it better to write your entire podcast out word-for-word or should you present it all off the top of your head? Or is there a "middle way'. The answer is kind of "yes" to all three.


I appreciate that appears really unhelpful. Let's go through the pros and cons.


Written out word-for-word

Pros: You'll know exactly what you're going to say, how you're going to say it and won't be afraid of brain-freeze or missing anything out. Also, you'll be able to craft that 'killer' ending that you might not quite deliver the right way if you're making it up as you go along.

Cons: You may sound stilted or unnatural and it will take longer to prepare. Frankly it won't be nearly as much fun when you could just chat away. You won't get that experience of "flow" (and if you've watched 'Soul' on Disney+, you'll recognise that jazz improvisational style that takes you to another place whilst simultaneously delivering your best performance ever!)


Off the top of your head

Pros: A natural, true-to-yourself sound and delivery and the ability to adapt and improvise without being nailed down by a script. Little preparation time.

Cons: The potential for too much waffle, too many irrelevant bits and a disappointing conclusion to your podcast. Also, lets say it felt great recording it but when you listen back, you realise it sucks a bit; you'll have to spend a lot of time editing it.


Inbetween

Pros: You stand the chance of getting the best of both worlds

Cons: You stand the chance of failing to get the best of either worlds!


So here's my advice. Firstly, consider your personality. Are you a quick-witted, off-the-cuff speaker who knows exactly what they're going to say... or somehow finds their way through without wobbling or losing their thread (and please, be honest with yourself). If you are, then maybe the off-the-cuff approach is suitable for you. Don't forget the adage "to fail to prepare means to prepare to fail" so if you really don't know the structure of what you're trying to deliver ahead of recording, it's highly likely you'll get lost or fail to communicate the information particularly well. Remember, even that jazz musician is working with a chord progression structure of some kind - it's not completely invented.


Also consider your guests, if you have any; what would suit them? Some guests like to know the exact questions they're going to be asked - and if they're presented with complete anarchy, they'll likely fall apart. Conversely, there's the risk that if the questions are far too clear and structured ahead of time, they'll write their answers and read them out themselves - and the whole thing will end up sounding like cardboard.


And if you've planned too much, there really isn't the space for you to react; if the guest says something that you should really pick up on, you don't want to just move on with the next question just because they've stopped. It'll sound disjointed and frankly like you weren't listening to what they were saying.


So planned or unplanned, it's important that you let things flow... get into the zone... be that jazz musician. Listen to your guest. Hear what they're saying. Respond to that. But equally, know your destination so you can steer them or yourself towards the destination. You may take some side roads and go around a roundabout twice, but if you're heading due-west, then you need to make sure you always head in that direction.


Oh, and speed is another consideration - and it's down to the individual again. If it's spilling off the top of your head, do you tend to talk far too fast, chasing the thoughts as they speedily leave your head (that's me, by the way). Or is delivering off the top of your head resulting in a measured, thoughtful approach, where you're considering what you're going to say next with some appropriate-length pauses?


If your reading style is naturally like a steam train, then perhaps you should shift to notes rather than every word written out. By using that, you'll have that need for a slower pace to consider the way you're going to develop your scribbles as full sentences.


In summary, your approach needs to be custom fit to your needs - and you must consider your personality, your guest's personality, your reading and ad-libbing speeds, and how much editing you want to do at the other end (because, trust me from bitter experience, if it feels great live, there's a decent chance you'll want to adjust it a good bit once you hear it back and that takes some editing skills).


My final plea - whether scripted or unscripted, as important as you being in 'the zone' is, you might want to consider who's zone it is, Because if it's just your zone and not of your listener or guest, you're only going to please one person.

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