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"I've outlined a ten-point plan, representing a new bilateral effort... I can't do this. If there is a War on Drugs then our own families have become the enemy. How can you wage war on your own family?"
Robert Wakefield, Traffic

You're about to give a speech. An important one. You've worked on this speech. Maybe your staff has slaved away, writing this speech. Maybe this speech has been vetted by lawyers and other important officials.

And then, you get started, and you realize that, despite all the work that has gone into this speech, those aren't the words you need to say. Those aren't the words your audience needs to hear. You push away -- or maybe crumple, or tear -- your notes. And you speak from the heart.

Sometimes you contradict the words in the speech, or piss off someone you promised not to. Other times, you might address yourself to someone in the audience, using a public platform for a private matter. Any which way, you are off message, big time.

See also Cue Card, and compare Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking.

Examples of Throwing Out the Script include:


Film

  • In Traffic, drug czar Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) interrupts himself in the middle of a carefully prepared, approved speech to make an emotional (though vague) reference to his drug-addicted daughter.
  • In Bulworth, the title character gets visibly bored of his speech, then gives a very candid answer to an audience question and never stops.
  • In Reality Bites, Lelaina pretends to do this -- actually, she's lost her notes and is just reciting platitudes.
  • In Intolerable Cruelty, Miles does this with his keynote speech at the NOMAN divorce lawyer conference.
  • Frank Capra has variations on this in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Meet John Doe and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
  • In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance the pro-rancher candidate claims to do this. However, When the "notes" he so dramatically screwed up and threw away are examined they turn out to be blank paper. The "words from his heart" was the speech he had memorised all along.
  • The end of the first Iron Man film. In this case, Tony Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. had earlier come up with a cover story that Tony was supposed to give at the press conference. After a few questions from a skeptical press, Tony decides to just tell the truth: "I am Iron Man."
  • D.E.B.S.. Amy is given a speech to read at End Game which tells a false story of how Lucy Diamond kidnapped her and held her hostage. She starts reading it to the crowd, but halfway through she stops reading it and tells the truth: that the time she spent with Lucy were the happiest days of her life and that she's leaving to be with Lucy.
  • In a Made for TV Movie based on the lives of Abbott and Costello, A&B are on a radio show and just before they go on they toss away the prepared scripts and adlib their segment.
  • X-Men 2: The POTUS discusses his speech as he walks down a hall with some staffers, then his speech is in the teleprompter, and he's going live when Professor X and the rest of the X-Men pay him a visit and provide him with documents from Col. Stryker's office. The X-Men leave, time resumes for the staffers, and the POTUS touches the file on his desk and begins to improvise...
  • In The Majestic, Peter has a prepared statement for the House of Unamerican Activities committee that was prepared by his lawyer and specifically tailored to get him off the Hollywood blacklist. However, when he starts to read it his throat goes dry and he realizes how wrong all of this is. He proceeds to chew out the committee and tell them what America is truly founded on.
  • Head Office: Jack Issel goes off script while doing PR for I.N.C. in order to impress a girl. While initially fired for saying the company is only after profit and doesn't care about people, he ends up promoted after it goes down well with the press.
  • Matthew Kidman appears to do this in The Girl Next Door, but it's a subversion. While it appears this way to the audience (who think he's incredibly sweet), he actually has nothing written down. He'd been too busy slacking off (and, in fairness, falling in love and learning life lessons) to write the speech.
  • In H2O, Tom McLaughlin (Paul Gross) establishes himself as a potential successor to his father, the late Prime Minister of Canada, when he throws out the prepared speech and shares an emotional memory at his father's state funeral. Later it's hinted that his words were actually planned to look like a spontaneous ad lib.
  • In The Adjustment Bureau, main character David Norris, a senatorial candidate, is preparing his concession speech in the men's room when he has a Meet Cute with a free spirited dancer. He is then inspired by the meeting to ditch his prepared speech and instead gives a brutally honest account of how his entire "common man" image, right down to the color of his ties and the scuff on his shoes, is the result of the work of highly paid consultants and spin doctors trying to reach the largest possible audience. This ends up further cementing Norris' reputation as the "people's candidate", which is just what the titular Bureau wanted.
  • In the beginning of Air Force One, President Marshall ditches his previously written self congratulatory speech about the successful capture of a Kazakh dictator by Russian and American special forces in favor of a frank confession on how his capture was too little too late since said dictator's regime had killed hundreds of thousands of innocents and the United States did nothing besides token trade sanctions until their own national security was threatened. He then vows that the United States will launch a new policy against terrorism unbounded by self interest.

Literature

  • The Isaac Asimov short story "Ignition Point!" is about a man who figures out how to write content-free speeches that will get audiences fired up. In the first test, the speechwriter stops in the middle, throws away the speech, and starts improvising -- the speech worked on him, too.
  • Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels:
    • In Clear and Present Danger, a news anchor stops reading what's on the autocue and starts saying what he believes needs to be said instead. (It's not exactly off-the-cuff: he has his alternate speech memorised, but didn't hand it in to be put on the autocue because he knew he wouldn't be allowed to say it. It is from the heart.)
    • In Executive Orders, President Ryan is giving a speech at a presidential funeral. Instead of reading the speach written for him, he speaks off the cuff to the children of the deceased president.
  • The Miles Vorkosigan novel Cryoburn has an important character development moment where Miles doesn't do this, to the surprise of the point of view character, who could see he was tempted and expected him from past experience to do it.
  • Happens at the climax of the children's book The Enormous Egg. The young protagonist is given a speech to read presenting a bland factual argument about why his pet triceratops should be spared. It gets replaced at the last minute with a note from a friend of his reading "You know what to do, good luck!" and once he gets past the stage fright, he ends up giving a heartfelt, spontaneous, and far more effective speech.
  • In the Left Behind book Apollyon, when Chaim Rosenzweig is asked to appear on TV to give his explanation for the sun giving out only one-third of its sunlight due to one of the Trumpet Judgments taking place (though Chaim isn't convinced that it is the hand of God at work), he is given a script by the Global Community that has him parrot the party line's explanation of some scientific cosmic disturbance that even Rosenzweig as a botanist can see through. He chooses to appear on TV but speaks his own mind instead, almost directing people to Dr. Tsion Ben-Judah's website before being pulled off the air.

Live Action TV

  • In Sex and the City, Samantha does this at a breast cancer charity dinner.
  • In Modern Family Season 2 finale, a reversal -- a sincere speech (Alex's mean-spirited valedictorian speech) gets thrown out in favor of a bunch of lies.
  • In the TV mini-series/pilot of Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, Adama's retirement speech features this move.
  • In Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, the first scene of the pilot.
  • This happens a couple times in The West Wing.
    • Subverted in one episode, where Toby Ziegler and Will Bailey are writing a speech for President Bartlett to introduce his new Vice President. The speech is supposed to be complimentary of the guy, but Toby and Will dislike him so much that they jokingly dash off an insulting (and well-written) one instead. Afterward they do write a real speech -- and guess what winds up on the Tele Prompter instead while Bartlett is before the cameras? But when he sees that the speech he's reading is turning abusive, he literally doesn't skip a beat -- he ignores the teleprompter and improvises a complimentary introduction for the VP.
  • And in Denmark's very own West Wing, Borgen, the first episode sees Prime Ministerial candidate Birgitte throw out the script prepared by her Spin Doctor and start ad libbing. It works, because while she is genuinely speaking from the heart, it is also made clear that a career of politics enables her to be able to be so readily articulate and persuasive. Also, the success of her speech has a lot to do with lucky timing - the favourite candidate also deviates from his script but his ad libbing misfired and alienates voters, and Birgitte reaps the benefit. Finally, her spontaneous idealism in the early episodes serves to underline Birgitte's journey into calculating, alienated and divisive as the series draws to a close. IT remains to be seen how much of impassioned-speech-making Birgitte will be on evidence in series two...
  • House: Dr House does this in an early season when asked to give a speech about a new drug the chairman of the hospital wants him to puff up. Played straight, as is usual on House, but he nearly gets fired for it.
  • In the first episode of Crossing Jordan, Garrett Macy is supposed to do a presentation about coroners at a career day. So he starts off with a fairly dry presentation with no enthusiasm, and then ends up in a rant practically driving people away with the lucid descriptions of his work.
  • Subverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when the Mayor keeps on reading his notes even as the Ascension is turning him into a demonic snake.
  • When Monica and Chandler got married on Friends, Chandler threw out his pre-prepared vows at the last moment to give a more heartfelt, situation-appropriate (as Joey had just revealed to Monica that Chandler had gotten cold feet and almost ran out on the wedding) speech.
  • Parodied in the second episode of Stella: "You know, I was going to come up here today, read this fancy speech I had written, then I was going to stop in the middle, crumple it up, throw it away, start speaking from the heart. But I'm not going to do that. I'm going to read from my prepared remarks instead."
  • In an episode of Carnivale, Brother Justin is given a Pre-Approved Sermon which he starts to read then rips apart in favor of his own words. Not quite a heartwarming moment, as Brother Justin isn't exactly the good guy. It is, however, a Crowning Moment of Awesome - the cinematography alone, not to mention the completely silent roar of approval given by his parishioners.

Opera

  • In Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, when Walther starts singing his prize song at the contest (after Beckmesser made a travesty out of it), Kothner unconsciously drops the music sheet. Walther sees this and turns his song into a more elaborate one than what he had set down earlier.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Invoked in Recess. Mikey starts overly structuring his life and loses his knack for poetry. So his friends write on his schedule to tear up the horrible bit he had written to be performed (though not in those words). And in his anxiety, he starts winging it, winning the competition.
  • Played With in an episode of King of the Hill.

 Bobby: (rehearsing) I rehearsed a speech on the way over here, but I'm throwing it out, because nothing says I'm sorry like "I'm sorry."

  • Subverted/parodied in a The Simpsons episode, where Homer breaks his notes and tries to do this but can't come with anything, so he tries to put back together his notes.

Real Life

  • This is Truth in Television, as many a preacher will tell you from the pulpit.
  • One example comes from the life of the 19th century American minister Henry Ward Beecher, who is supposed to have torn up his carefully polished first sermon and preached without notes after his wife gently hinted that the prepared version was boring. He went on to become the most famous orator of his time.
  • Robert Frost at the inauguration of JFK. Frost had written a new poem for the occasion but kept getting his notes mixed up. Finally he gave up and instead recited "The Gift Outright" from memory.
  • Martin Luther King stayed up all night writing his speech with his team only to stand up the next day, begin his speech, and promptly throw it out. Instead, he winged it. The result? His famous "I have a dream" speech.
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