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.
Maybe, to your misfortune, mere moments before the actual speech, you are unknowingly a victim of a Satchel Switcheroo, where you're left with mortgage documents instead of your script. Perhaps you've had experiences that have changed your perspective on the speech you intended to give. Or you took a look at what someone else had prepared for you and thought, "Who Writes This Crap?!"
Whatever the case, as you're about to get started, 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.
Not to be confused with Throw It In!, when an actor figuratively throws out the script and improvises a line or action.
- 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.
- In Head of State, Mays metaphorically throws out the script by turning off the teleprompter with a prepared speech on it. He then starts asking the crowd how hard their lives currently are ("how many of you have to work two jobs just to make enough money to be broke?"), ending each question with "that ain't right!" The crowd loves it, and Mays ends up making "that ain't right!" into a new campaign slogan.
- 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.
- Michael Douglas does this again as the president in The American President, holding an impromptu press conference right before his State of the Union address that both destroys huge parts of the prepared speech. Part of it can be seen here. In 2012, lines were lifted by an Australian politician.
- 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 Iron Man. 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.
- In X2: X-Men United, the President 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 President 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 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.
- In The Dark Knight Rises, Commissioner Gordon ditches his prepared speech revealing that Harvey Dent was Two-Face in favor of yet more praise of Dent. The script becomes a major Chekhov's Gun.
- Not only that, but the prepared speech is one he has apparently kept in his pocket for three years!
- In Election, the three candidates for running for high school student body president are all supposed to speak at an assembly detailing why their school should vote for them. After the staff listens approvingly to the first two formulaic speeches (one of which was actually written by a teacher), they're shocked when the third candidate begins her speech with an angry "Who cares about this stupid election?", proceeding to excoriate high school elections and vow to dismantle the student government if she's elected. Her classmates greet her speech with thunderous applause.
- At the end of Kate & Leopold, Kate declines to follow her time-travelling boyfriend Leopold back to the 19th century, and begins a speech accepting a promotion at her stressful and amoral (but well-paying) advertising agency. She eventually loses her train of thought, begins rambling about going after what one wants, and then runs away to pursue Leopold. This was less a moral revelation, more because during her speech she saw a photograph proving that she'd already gone back to pursue him.
- Before Katniss and Peeta arrive at their first stop of the Victory Tour in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Effie hands them the speeches she has written for them. Peeta stops looking at his after reading the first sentence.
Effie: [Gasp!] He put down the cards. Why do I bother?
- In a demonstration of why you should stick to the script a Fascist government hands you, the Peacekeepers kill an old man who supports them. From that moment on, they read the lines Effie gives them.
- A Time to Kill: When it comes time for Jake Brigance (played by Matthew McConaughey) to give his closing argument, he decides to throw out his well-reasoned points of law and instead appeal directly to the humanity of the jurors will an emotional, tearful speech. It works.
- In The Fault in Our Stars characters Augustus, Hazel and Isaac holds a "pre-funeral" for one another, where they've written quite unconventional eulogies that they, to each others appreciation, read aloud. However, at Augustus actual funeral, Hazel gives Augustus parents a glance before she's about to read that same eulogy she wrote for his pre-funeral again and changes her mind (even though she doesn't actually believe in any of the things she ends up saying instead) since, she states in the voice-over, "Funerals are not for the dead. They're for the living".
- Angels in the Outfield: George Knox is being forced to make a statement to the press denying the involvement of real, heaven-sent angels in his team's recent winning streak... but when Roger, J.P. and Maggie come into the room, he abandons his planned speech and instead reaffirms his belief that angels are helping the team win.
- In the American Girl movie Samantha: An American Girl Holiday, Samantha does this when making a speech about factories as a symbol of American progress. Her original speech is largely approving and portrays factories in a positive light, but after she sees what really goes on behind the scenes, she realizes her version was sanitized and not based in reality, and throws out her original speech in favor of one that exposes the horrible truth she's learned.
- Isaac Asimov's "Ignition Point!": The handlers supporting a political campaign have developed a technique of writing content-free speeches that will get audiences fired up. In the first test, the politician they're supporting 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.)
- Cryoburn has an important character development moment where Miles Vorkosigan 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 Catching Fire, Peeta and Katniss both dismissed the cards issued to them by Effie to read in District 11, instead making speeches about D11's tributes, Thresh and Rue, on their own. At least for one old man this didn't end well. To prevent more victims they go along their cards in other districts.
- In I, Claudius, Claudius has prepared to address his army with a grand speech before they go into battle at the conquest of Britain. When he actually comes to give the speech, he finds himself abandoning the speech he'd planned and improvising something far less formal.
- The Eagle Tree: When March goes to speak in front of the city council about why they shouldn't chop down the titular tree, he drops his cards, picks them up in the wrong order, and can't find one card. He's forced to improvise and gives what is later summarized as "several strident statements" that the council doesn't pay much attention to. He does manage to get to the most important point: that the tree is home to an endangered murrelet.
- 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 (2003), Adama ditches his planned speech for Galactica's decomissioning and instead launches into a speech about how humanity needs to ask itself if it deserves to survive.
- In Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the pilot opens with the producer of "Studio 60" interrupting the broadcast to go on an unscripted rant about the poor quality of the episode and media in general.
- 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 TelePrompter 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. The VP sees the teleprompter and asks the two for a manuscript of it... so he can use it against them later if he has to.
- The Big Bang Theory: In the Grand Finale, Sheldon wins the Nobel Prize for physics. Just before the ceremony his friends call him out for being selfish and caring more about not catching Penny's apparent illness when announces she's pregnant than about his friends and wife. When he stands up to accept his reward, he sets aside the self-centered speech he wrote and has all his friends in the audience stand up and individually thanks each of them for their role in his life.
- And in Denmark's 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 commencement address to the graduating high schoolers, even as the Ascension is turning him into a demonic snake.
Buffy: Oh my god, he's really gonna read the entire speech.
Willow: Man, just ascend already.
- 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. Ross looks visibly miffed that his role of handing the vows over is no longer required.
- Similarly, when Joey shows up to be the priest, he admits that he unintentionally left the speech he made in his dressing room.
- 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 Carnivàle, 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. However, the cinematography is good, 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.
- Happens in Veep at Selina's inauguration. Her staff has do redo the entire speech while its on the teleprompters, forcing her to ad lib, or as one of her staff puts it, "bebop speaking". It's rather impressive at how she manages to work her way around it. They manage to bring it back up... except it contains the previous president's immediate plans, so now Selina's just promised to do her predecessor's plans.
Selina: There are no words—Teleprompter: [the speech is suddenly erased and replaced with a ":/"]
- A Downplayed example sometimes happens in the Saturday Night Live "Celebrity Jeopardy" skits, where Alex Trebek throws away a "Final Jeopardy" question that he thinks is too hard for the simple-minded contestants and makes up an easier one, like "Write any number" or "Ask your own question and answer it". Inevitably, they still manage to foul it up.
- Frasier: Bulldog is receiving a Man of the Year award for his heroism in reacting to an armed robber. Only Frasier saw that his seeming bravery was due to a misunderstanding, and Bulldog was actually trying to use Roz (who was pregnant!) as a human shield, accidentally spilling coffee on the gunman in the process. Frasier believes that no man can ignore his conscience forever, and spends the night of the awards ceremony not-so-subtly guilt-tripping Bulldog under the guise of praise. When it's time to receive the award, Bulldog, uncharacteristically humbled, explains that he had a speech prepared, but he can't read it now... and then yells, "This is awesome! Thanks, everybody!", much to Frasier's horror.
- Enforced in a 70's-era TV movie about a minister who was assigned to a new church. When he got there he discovered that due to budget shortfalls, the building was only partly done. He decided to give his first sermon in the unfinished framework of the church, hoping to encourage the congregation to donate. Unfortunately, it rained that Sunday. Some game souls sat in the pews in raincoats and umbrellas, and other watched from their cars, so the pastor decided to stand at the pulpit, in the rain, and give his sermon. But the rain washed the ink off his notes, so he crumbled it up and said:
Pastor: Today's sermon, by necessity, will be short. Do you want a church — or do you want to get wet?
- 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.
- In Dear Evan Hansen, Evan has written some notes to give a speech in front of all the school members in memory of Connor. Due to his social anxiety, he stutters, gets nervous and confused and finally his notes slip from his hands and fall everywhere. At that moment, he decides to speak from the heart, leading to the song "You Will Be Found".
- Undyne does this in Undertale. Apparently it's customary to tell humans the tragic tale of monster society before you kill them, but she figures, why bother when she's just going to kill you? So she replaces it with a "Reason You Suck" Speech condemning you for every monster you've killed, if you have. Even on a Pacifist Run, she blames you for not giving yourself up so Asgore can use your SOUL to break the barrier. Though if you befriend her, you can get her to admit that she actually did all this because she forgot her speech.
- In the "Are You With Us?" trailer for Overwatch, Winston is recording a message to broadcast to the former agents of Overwatch in an effort to rally them together to deal with the problems that have arisen since their dismantlement. After a few false starts, he starts reciting a speech about Overwatch's origins only for him to stumble and then just decide to get to the point: that the world needs heroes once more.
- An episode of Family Guy features Peter, as president of Chris' school board, about to give a speech that blames Lois for pornography that Chris found. Upon seeing Lois in the audience, Peter decides that he can't go through with it, throwing away multiple pages of notes and admitting that the entire thing was his fault.
- 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.
- 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."
- The Simpsons
- Subverted/parodied in one 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.
- Double-subverted in another Simpsons episode: Lisa wants to tell the town the truth about Jebediah Springfield but ends up croaking out "...he was great!" She explains to the museum curator that the legend of Springfield had value of its own.
- Parodied in Rick and Morty, where Rick's "script" consists of two and a half sentences, then some notes telling himself to crumple up the script and start ad-libbing.
- 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.
- In news, this is also known as "throwing out the rundown" (i.e. the plan for that night's show), usually (but not always) in light of breaking news. Fox News anchor Shepard Smith has said that he and his team draw up a rundown every day with the hopes of throwing it out completely by five minutes into the show, because his favorite thing about the job is covering breaking news that takes everyone by surprise.
- Infamously, at E3 1995, Sony Computer Entertainment of America President Steve Race, after being called up to give a brief presentation on the upcoming PlayStation, decided to cut it down to one word that would best one-up the then-recent surprise launch of the Sega Saturn: "$299."