Given the venue and the time restrictions, Christie said, "they want you to work off a text, and that's fine." But he noted that former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour reminded him that he needed to "be Chris.'"
"If that means I stray a little off the prompter every once in a while," he said, "that's the way it goes."
Christie did not stray much, except to add emphasis or focus his audience. And while he did seem a tad less spontaneous than usual, his delivery — "I know this simple truth and I'm not afraid to say it" — was every bit as powerful.
It's that delicate balance — preparation without overpackaging — that is so difficult to strike. Rick Andrews, who teaches improv at New York's Magnet Theater, works with businesspeople trying to communicate better. The trick for politicians, he says, is to try to "appear casual, off the cuff — when you're not."
"We would be shocked if they weren't prepared," Andrews says. "But we also don't want them to appear to be overly prepared."
Republicans, including Romney, have openly mocked President Barack Obama's use of the teleprompter. But Ann Romney, the former Massachusetts governor's wife, seemed relieved to know she would not be up on that stage alone. She told reporters Tuesday that she had "never gone off of a written text."
"I had a lot of input in this, I must say, and a lot of, um, tweaking where I felt like was getting what I really wanted to say and from my heart," she said.
Whatever butterflies she might have had going in, they had flown soon after she took the stage. She even went off script at regular intervals, channeling Oprah Winfrey after a passage about mothers, wives, sisters and daughters: "I love you women, and I hear your voices," she shouted.
Mitt Romney has a reputation for being somewhat stiff. But Lehrman is looking forward to his performance Thursday evening — particularly given that the GOP nominee has been working with an oratory coach. "I see him being more impassioned and more natural," Lehrman says. "He's been able to fake naturalness better."
And in the process, perhaps, something valuable is lost. That's how Bensel sees it. By sculpting their conventions so carefully, he says, both political parties are missing out on the chance to make history.
"The problem is, when you script the speech, the crowd isn't involved and there's no feedback, there's no spontaneity," Bensel says. "The whole connection between the party rank and file as audience and whoever's speaking is broken. You are just an audience. You aren't a participant in the creation of a political moment."
Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont and Kasie Hunt contributed to this report. Follow AP National Writer Allen G. Breed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AllenGBreed