"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?"
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...
Not to be confused with Throw It In
, when an actor figuratively
throws out the script and improvises a line or action.
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- In Daredevil, Matt was prepared to present the eulogy at his ex-girlfriend Karen Page's funeral. As he stood at the podium, he suddenly realized that there was nothing he could say to capture what he was feeling. Matt merely touched Karen's casket and left without a word.
- In Identity Crisis, Ralph Dibny is prepared to eulogize his late wife Sue. He's so heartbroken that he can't stick to his prepared speech. Ralph falls apart emotionally and physically as his friends escort him away.
- In Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty, the Avengers have been threatened with being shut down by the government unless they abide by a new set of strict regulations - including the expulsion of all mutants, former criminals, and foreign citizens. After a long debate over whether it is more important for the Avengers to dissolve to preserve their ideals or accept the new conditions because the team is too important to the world, Cap with a heavy heart casts the deciding vote to accept the government's demands. Most of the heroes leave in disgust and Cap is told to make a speech, showing off the few remaining Avengers to assure the public. Instead, Cap tells all about the government's strong-arm tactics, blasting the regulations over Henry Gyrich's protests. Rather than declaring a new golden age for the Avengers, Cap instead announces his resignation and leaves.
- The Isaac Asimov short story "Ignition Point!" is about a politician whose handlers have developed a technique of writing content-free speeches that will get audiences fired up. In the first test, the speaker stops in the middle, throws away the speech, and starts improvising — the speech worked on him, too.
- From Tom Clancy's Executive Orders:
- Towards the beginning of the novel, President Ryan is giving a speech at a presidential funeral. Instead of reading the speech written for him, he speaks off the cuff to the children of the deceased president. At a later press conference, Ryan jokes to the members of the press that he will be sticking to the script this time.
- For his last time on the air before retiring from television, a news anchor stops reading what's on the teleprompter and starts saying what he believes needs to be said instead. (It's not exactly off-the-cuff: he has his alternate speech memorized, but didn't hand it in to be put on the teleprompter because he knew he wouldn't be allowed to say it. It is from the heart.)
- 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 causing the phenomenon 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.
- 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.
- To be fair, the tone of the scene seems to indicate that she genuinely changed her mind at the last second and didn't want to use the speech as a way to attack her classmates.
- 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 Carnivāle, 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.
- In season 3 of Justified Dickie Bennett is about to be released from prison after making a deal with the Justice Department. None of the good guys are happy about this and the presiding judge is eager to find some justifiable reason why he should throw out the deal. All Raylan has to do is go in front of the judge and testify about Dickie's assault on him and how horrible an impact it had on him. Raylan starts his prepared speech but quickly realizes that he cannot go through with it since he will not pretend to be a victim just to keep Dickie in jail. Instead he talks about Dickie being a stupid criminal who will end up back in prison soon anyway so the judge should just let him go.
- In season 1, episode 8 of House of Cards Frank Underwood throws out his speech on the occasion of having a library named after himself in favor of a heartfelt thanks to his old friends.
- In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Phil has to give a eulogy for his former mentor turned rival who just ran a dirty campaign against Phil before dying of a heart attack. He had a complimentary eulogy written ahead of time, but Vivian lost it on purpose. Forced to give the eulogy without a script, Phil admits to the mourners that he can't say anything good about the dead man and asks them to take his place. Turns out they all hated the man too and merely showed up to gloat.
- In Jeeves and Wooster Gussie Finke-Nottle does this. Unfortunately, he is extremely Unsuspectingly Soused (while he deliberately had a drink beforehand, he wasn't aware that both Jeeves and Wooster had spiked his orange juice), and his speech turns into an incoherent rant where he takes bizarre potshots at his friends, and selects one student he doesn't like the look of and spends much of the speech insulting him.
- 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.
- In The Ghosts Of Versailles, this becomes a plot point when Figaro chooses to abandon Beaumarchais's libretto.
- 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 couldn't read his notes thanks to the glaring sunlight. Finally he gave up and instead recited "The Gift Outright" from memory.
- Martin Luther King was known to chuck a prepared speech and construct a new one on the spot. The famous "I have a dream" speech has a completely different ending than the one he planned, instead going on a tangent with numerous allusions to literature and poetry. He also began riffing towards the end of his "mountaintop" speech, made shortly before his death. Some question the academic integrity of the many lines he lifted from other sources, but the results are hard to argue with.
- Barack Obama did this after Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud at the 2010 Correspondents Dinner.
- He did so again briefly at the 2015 State Of The Union address, diverting from the script midspeech to address an audience reaction.
- Pope Francis does this all the time, most notably when he met with a group of Italian school children. He turned it into a Q&A session and ended up admitting that he didn't ever plan or want to be Pope.