When Jacqui met Harry … or Six Tips to Speak with Scripts

I’ve spoken at hundreds of conferences yet when asked to share a platform with Royalty I was SO nervous! I sorted out my nerves by writing a professional script.

It worked; the conference organiser described my presentation as “assured, business-like and warm”. This blog  shares techniques to speak well with scripts.

  1. Rewrite

The goal is to get the script to sound as close as possible to your speaking voice. The success of the presentation is down to how effectively you write or rewrite the script to sound ‘natural’.

The conference organisers wrote a script for me to introduce the conference, introduce the guests and to close the conference. The content of the script was excellent but the language didn’t sound like me. My first task was to transform the script to ‘Jacqui speak’.

As I sat at my laptop going through the script I was constantly reading the words out loud to hear how the language sounded and testing whether it felt like something I would actually say. This is a practice I learned in TV newsrooms.

I shortened the sentences so they were easier to say and therefore easier to communicate the meaning.

I changed words so the tone was more conversational. For example, after showing a video clip of young people talking about mental health I had to say a back anno (TV speak for a back announcement, that is, a  short comment after a video).

The original script said:

Thank you to these incredible people, who are here today, for sharing their very personal stories.

The rewritten script:

Such incredible young people. Thank you for sharing your stories. And it’s great to have you here today.

I used contracted versions of familiar phrases for example, ‘I have’ was changed to I’ve and ‘we are’ was changed to ‘we’re’.

I used ‘set up’ phrases to introduce important ideas before actually saying them. For example there was data on mental health that I wanted the audience to really notice. I prefaced the data by saying “I’d like to share a couple of important stats with you”.

Double line spacing makes a script so much easier to navigate in a live situation. It means when looking up and down from the script it is easy to find your place and keep regular eye contact with the audience.

I have occasionally seen speakers falter (and worse) when their script pages come out of order. One solution is to staple the scripts or link them together with a Treasury Tag. The only drawback to this option is that a sensitive mike will pick up the sound of the pages being turned and they will also be more visible to the audience.

Another option is to number the script pages and hold them together with a paper clip. At the podium remove the paper clip so you can slide the pages right to left as you are reading. This keeps paper-shuffling sound to a minimum and is less visible to the audience. This is how I’ve handled scripts when broadcasting live on television.


Once I got the script sounding right I moved onto rehearsals. In my office I stood up to read scripts all the way through – several times. The point was to become comfortably familiar with the script but not to the point of knowing it by heart.

3.Mark up the script

After several run-throughs I returned to my desk and the script. This time my goal was to use annotations to enhance my presence and impact. There are many ways to do this and I encourage you to create a system that works for you. My system included underlining words that needed vocal emphasis. I inserted an asterix where I wanted to remind myself to pause within a paragraph.

I circled an asterix to prompt me to do a ’superpause’. This is a longer pause that separates one key idea from another. It allows the speaker to breathe, the audience to process the information and it signals to the audience that a new, key idea is about to start.

I highlighted in yellow the names of the sponsors so their name checks were given sufficient vocal weight.

See below for the first page of my conference script and the mark up I did.

  1. Fine tune

Then it was back to rehearsals to fine tune my performance. This time I recorded the rehearsals to review what needed adjusting. For the first rehearsal I recorded sound only to assess how fluently I came across and to gauge the expressiveness in my voice.

The second run-through I just watched the vision and muted the sound. I was checking my body language, gestures, facial animation etc.

On the last rehearsal I reviewed both sound and vision.  By this time I was happy and comfortable with the script.

I was able to do a full walk-through at the venue the day before. I used the opportunity to ‘own the space’. This is a combination of breathing into the space, testing mikes and walking to and from the podium.

  1. On the day!

In the early morning I read through the scripts a couple of times in private. On the day of an event it’s amazing how the adrenalin suddenly kicks in and makes you feel as if you haven’t done any preparation at all. The solution is to focus on the start of the speech.

It’s when the audience is most attentive and when the rapport between speaker and audience is established. It’s also when a speaker is most likely to be nervous. For this reason I recommend going over the beginning of the script as many times as you need. I went through my opening FIVE times in private!


BLAB is my acronym for:

  • Breathe
  • Look
  • And
  • Begin

This deceptively simple technique makes a dramatic difference. It helps a speaker start in control and look poised and confident. It certainly helped me.

To BLAB a speech you walk purposefully towards the podium without speaking. (I see too many instances of speakers diminishing their impact while walking and talking before they get to the podium). When you arrive at the podium you pause and breathe deeply, look into the audience and then begin.

With all that preparation behind me I was finally ready for The Prince!


Jacqui Harper MBE MA Hon Fellow
Jacqui is a visiting professor at INSEAD – the number one global business school (Financial Times, 2017) where she teaches Executive Presence to MBA students and executives.
As a TV news anchor Jacqui has presented several news programmes for BBC TV, Sky News and ITV and a chat show on BBC 2.
Her presenting experience gives her many practical insights and skills to share with business leaders needing high grade communication skills at conferences, board presentations, media interviews and stakeholder events.
Through her company, CRYSTAL BUSINESS COACHING, she has been transforming Executive Presentations for over fifteen years and her clients include many CEOs of global corporations and senior staff at The Foreign Office.
Jacqui has a passion for writing. It started as a business reporter for the Oakland Tribune in California. She has written a business book called The Professional’s Guide to Presentations. She is currently writing a new book on Executive Presence.
Jacqui is married to Peter, a lawyer, and they have two gorgeous kids who are at school. Jacqui’s free time is spent walking in The Yorkshire Dales.

6 Tips for Online Job Interviews

Dream job ahead / Warning sign concept (Click for more)

When it’s time for a new job use personal presence to do a confident and memorable online interview.

It’s all about the first ten seconds. That’s when recruitment professionals decide whether to continue watching you or move on to the hundreds of other recordings. At the heart of the decision is whether they trust you.

It’s challenging for candidates. The ‘interviews’ are not interviews at all but ten minute presentations to an online camera and there’s no interaction with another person.

Assuming you’ve done your homework on the company and the job these tips will help you begin with a powerful presence to win trust and get noticed.


  1. Colour

Colour is the first thing people notice. It’s what the brain processes first. So think about colours that serve you best.  Light, dark, bright or soft colours have different effects on you and those watching you. High contrasting colours like a black jacket and white shirt or a navy blazer and ivory camisole will give you a more authoritative presence. Lighter colours will generally make you come across as more approachable.

Also bear in mind that individual colours have qualities associated with them.

  • Red is often linked to power, boldness, strength, sexiness. It’s a want-to-get noticed colour.
  • Blue is the world’s favourite colour. This classic business colour is often associated with calmness and authority.
  • Grey is a conservative, rational and neutral colour. It may suggest competence with a conservative aspect.
  • Black is a neutral colour often thought of as classic, elegant and powerful. It is also linked to death, magic and evil yet for all its challenges black is consistently one of the most popular colours for fashion garments.

The colours you wear will communicate messages about you so you might as well be intentional and shape those messages.

  1. Body Language

Before you’ve said a word your body language has been noticed and judged. Positive body language typically means having an open, upright posture with shoulders down and back. If possible do online interviews standing up as it will improve your posture. This should also allow you to speak expressively with your hands.

You can improve your body language by reducing tension in your body. In interviews most people feel tension in their jaw, throat, shoulders or stomach. As part of your interview preparation try gently massaging your jaw and throat, rolling your shoulders and breathing slowly into your tummy.

I would recommend composing a medium close up shot (MCU) of yourself on your laptop camera or smartphone. That means you are visible from the chest upwards. The closeness of the image will help recruiters connect more quickly to you but it will also magnify facial expressions so be aware of how you come across at all times.

I encourage women to wear makeup for online interviews.  A well made up face often provides a helpful shortcut to looking more professional, competent and likable.

  1. Voice

After you have said the world ‘hello’ a reviewer has started to form judgements about your character and suitability for the job. In less than a second the energy, pitch and emotion of that single word tells the reviewer whether they trust you and whether they like you. If they form a positive initial impression this is generally what they think of you at the end of the recording. This is one of the key findings of academic research done by McAleer, Todorov and Belin in 2014.

It’s vital to start speaking with a passionate, energetic and authoritative voice from the very first word. The most important way to improve your voice is to learn diaphragmatic breathing sometimes called belly breathing. There are countless video guides and articles on the internet so find one that works for you. Diaphragmatic breathing can quickly transform your voice with regular practice.

Once you’re breathing effectively it’s time to warm up your voice. Humming a tune works well. If you gently hold your throat with one hand while you hum you can feel the good work you are doing for your vocal cords.

Good articulation gets you noticed. Too many people are lazy when speaking and don’t make the best use of their jaw, lips and tongue to give clear, dynamic speech. Tongue twisters said out loud will get your articulators working. I like Peter Piper but there are many others!

The purpose of working on voice and body language is to show recruiters your best self and establish strong personal impact within ten seconds.

  1. Your story

Storytelling is the oldest and most powerful way to communicate ideas, get attention and gain trust. Your story will make your interview unique. No one else will have that story and no one else will tell it like you. As a typical online interview is ten minutes much of that time is taken up with answering pre-set questions. That means you probably have time to tell one short story when asked to speak about yourself.

An effective story needs a theme that communicates one big idea about you. You can then use that theme to describe additional details you want the reviewer to know. We all know the three elements to a story: beginning, middle and end. The beginning establishes the setting for the central character (you). The middle has an important moment or trigger and the end contains the learning or conclusion for the central character.

For example, when introducing myself to groups I often share the story of a big moment in the life a ten year old child. My story takes place in a classroom where a teacher asks various ten year olds to read out an assignment. One by one the children proudly read one or two pages (the beginning).

The teacher asks the final child to read her story and quickly adds that she knows  the child has written eight pages but there is only time for her to read out the first two pages. The child is confused and upset and dives under her desk (the middle).

I reveal that I am the child and I could not have known that moment was the start of something big. I did not know that I would grow up with a life-long passion for communication which would influence every job I have done and how I have done it (the end). With a clear theme established I then list a few significant jobs/roles. It’s a more memorable and creative way of communicating aspects of a CV.

There’s a great chapter on how to use stories in the book ‘TED Talks – the official TED guide to public speaking’ by Chris Anderson.

  1. Rehearse

In my previous career when I presented a new TV show we would always do a ‘dry run’. That involved rehearsing everything in real time and real conditions: scripts, lights, cameras, studio set, full make up and clothes. It’s the best way to get your performance absolutely right. The equivalent for an online interview is recording your rehearsal as if it were the real thing so using the actual room, same lighting conditions and wearing work clothes.

Rehearsals are a good time to try out notes or prompts to see how effective they are. It might help to pin notes to the left or right of the camera so you can maintain train of thought and direct eye line. This achieves the effect of eye contact with the reviewer which is critical for establishing trust.

Bullet points usually work better than full scripts as you will sound more natural and maintain crucial eye line with the camera.

Forensically review and critique your rehearsal recordings. Assess your presence:  voice, body language and even personal grooming. Check how clearly and effectively you are expressing your ideas. Note what’s visible in the background of your shot and whether your colours work. Rehearse until you look and feel confident.

  1. Nerves

Expect to feel nervous when you record online interviews particularly at the beginning. My advice for achieving a powerful beginning is to BLAB: Breathe, Look And Begin. Start with good diaphragmatic breath to power your voice, look into camera, pause and then begin. This should help you start in control. If you talk quickly when nervous make yourself speak a little slower at the very start. The important thing is to stay in control.

Finally, try to smile. According to research by healthcare entrepreneur Ron Gutman a smile can help you feel more confident, look good to others and even help you live longer.

Good luck.

© Jacqui Harper 2017

Women’s Workwear: how a Presence Audit can help with High Heel Headaches

Heels graphic low resSending home a young woman who refused to wear high heels at the office of a top London accounting firm has created a remarkable reaction. Government ministers are frowning on the practice, the UK Parliament is considering a national debate and many international corporations are rushing to review policies regarding women’s workwear and heels in particular.

As companies update the rule books designed to uphold powerful corporate brands they might want to consider other tools for getting the support of staff and contractors: a personal presence audit.

High Heel Drama

Linking personal presence audits to employer values can powerfully align corporate brands and the personal brands of employees. This seems crucial for frontline staff like the woman at the centre of the high heel drama, Nicola Thorp.  At the very least encouraging staff to do a personal presence audit can draw attention to potential areas of conflict between how a woman wants to be seen in business and how an organisation wants her to be seen.

Probing Conversation

So what is a presence audit? It involves taking a deep look at how to express your best self in the workplace and has evolved from executive coaching and personal branding.  At the heart of the audit is an in-depth, honest and probing conversation with yourself about who you are and who you want to be. The answers help you create a presence statement.

The answers also provide an opportunity to compare and link your values to your employers’. Conflicts or alarm bells in this area should be noted and most certainly addressed. The next step is to scrutinise your presence – literally how you show up – and consider where you need to make adjustments.

Clients and Colleagues

There are two areas to review: personal presence and physical presence. Your personal presence focuses on the internal dialogue you have with yourself because this affects clients and colleagues around you. Do you have a lot of negative self-talk? What’s generating that?  What new habits can you start to shift into positive self-talk?


Physical presence is to do with body language as well as image and style. Interpreting your presence statement in terms of what you wear throws up challenges and choices. Deciding on flats or heels is partly a matter of personal preference and partly to do with body shape and lines.

Business Suit

For women like me who are just under average height and just over average build I would say that flat shoes don’t work terribly well with a business suit. I need the elongation of body line provided by extra inches of heel to create what headmistress Jenny Brown calls the final flourish. She lovingly describes heels as “beautiful in their tapering leanness, their sinuous arches and the magic physics of them”.

But she’s wrong to suggest that it has be high heels every time for every woman. Taller women with average builds can look spectacularly smart and professional in flat shoes. There are so many elegant, low heels and flats out there for women who want them.

We have Nicola Thorp to thank for making us take a fresh look at modern business wear for women and linking it to core values, personal presence and corporate branding.

© 2016  Jacqui Harper

Jacqui Harper

Jacqui Harper

Jacqui Harper is the founder of Crystal Business Coaching.

She is a subject expert in leadership presence and personal branding.  

Jacqui teaches communication courses at INSEAD.  

She is the author of a business book on presentation skills

and previously anchored news programmes for BBC Television.

Can Amy Cuddy’s new book on Presence live up to the global success of her TED Talk?

Executive Coach, Jacqui Harper, finds out.

It was always going to be a tough call to follow Amy’s 2012 TED Talk: it’s had over 30 million views. Why? A lot of it is to do with the Harvard Business professor herself. When she tearfully discloses her own struggles with not feeling worthy it takes the conversation out of an academic comfort zone and into real-world pain and emotion. Viewers in their millions have connected to her as she shares strategies for becoming bold and confident: the power poses.


The new book on ‘Presence’ starts with a lot of anecdotes including one about Amy having brain freeze in an elevator with three academics she wanted to impress. I wondered if the book was going to be overloaded with stories from the many people who have written to her and become a rather tedious read. In this judgement I was probably a little premature as the book quickly moves into a thoughtful and wide- ranging discussion on what presence is.

She gives the best definition of presence close to the end of the book when she says it’s “when we execute with comfortable confidence and synchrony, regardless of the outcome”. Synchrony, she explains, is all about the alignment of emotions, thoughts, physical and facial expression, behaviours”.


She illustrates presence in surprising ways. There’s an actor’s perspective which is well-articulated by Oscar winner Julianne Moore and ultimately about feeling powerful. We also hear from a Boston priest whose presence has drastically reduced serious gang crime. His power came from his authentic presence.

Amy’s presence

But perhaps the most powerful presence in the book is that of Cuddy. It closely matches my recollection of meeting her in person at Santa Barbara airport in 2014. As she kindly helped me with my suitcases I was closely observing her and she came across as a warm, smart, energetic and genuine person. She is also humble and there’s the merest hint of vulnerability.

Her authorial presence is strong and dynamic. Her style ranges back and forth from highly academic to practical self-help. The rigorous research is clear from the extensive list of references and sources spanning thirty one pages. Self-help pointers occur throughout and dominate the later chapters of the book. In her quest to argue the science of presence she largely succeeds.

In fact it is the last few chapters that really excite me. I coach executives in leadership presence and lecture on the subject at INSEAD so I wanted to know what new information Cuddy brought to the subject of presence and how this might help my coaching clients and executive students.


Definitely in the ‘new’ territory is her exploration of technology and presence. She calls it iPosture. She cautions against endlessly hunching over smartphones. Her research shows that using small electronic devices makes us adopt physical positions that stifle our power and ability to be present. She also encourages us to programme our phones to remind us to check our posture every hour.

Walk N Talk Coaching

I have noticed that my clients respond really well to coaching conversations in open spaces while on the go. I put it down to my clients relishing a break from air-conditioned buildings. Amy Cuddy sees it differently. She wants us to walk throughout the day and to try ‘walking meetings’  because they improve your mood and lead to better communication, engagement and problem solving.

It is hard to have a conversation about presence without considering what you wear. Tucked at the end of the book are a few thoughts from Cuddy. She describes an experiment using white lab coats. Participants increased their attention spans (and ability to be present) when wearing these garments. The results were more dramatic when these same participants were told the white coats were doctors’ coats. However, when they were told the garments were painters’ coats they did not experience the same benefit. So what you wear matters and what you associate with your clothes also matters because it shapes how you interact with the present.


Being mindful of what we wear is of the many small actions we can take to slowly change our future, says Cuddy. For me one of the best points she makes is about reframing anxiety. In a challenging situation instead of telling yourself to calm down she suggests harnessing the nervous energy and reframing it as excitement. I tried this going into an important meeting recently and it worked really well.

Amy Cuddy’s book is a fascinating read and full of helpful ideas for those of us who want to be our best selves. And, yes, it’s a worthy successor to her TED Talk.

© 2016 Jacqui Harper



What I Learnt From Strictly Dancers Ian and Natalie

Jacqui Harper with Strictly dancers Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite

Jacqui Harper with Strictly dancers Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite

I recently hosted a fundraiser for my son’s school, The Grammar School at Leeds or GSAL. It featured two of the stars of Strictly Come Dancing – Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite. In between exquisite dances I interviewed them. To my surprise, that evening I learned so much about powerful communication.

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And The Award For Best Oscar Speech Goes To…

Public speaking expert Jacqui Harper analyses what makes a winning speech.

Speeches are never easy but OSCAR night is especially hard. Four billion eyes around the world are watching. The clock counts down from 45 seconds as soon as you start speaking. Emotions naturally run high and the Dolby Theatre is teaming with Hollywood’s finest. Despite this a handful of speakers shone on the night.

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How To Give An Awards Speech

Tips For Oscar Nominees – And The Rest Of Us!

CONGRATULATIONS to British director Steve McQueen for ending his speech so powerfully at the recent British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs). His scorching reminder that slavery is still an evil endured by 21 million people around the world dwarfed other acceptance speeches.

The celebration of his artistic leadership of ’12 Years a Slave’ is well deserved. It would be a fitting, final act of leadership to this remarkable film if his Oscar speech (hopefully!) is well prepared, truly expresses his leadership presence and is delivered confidently.

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