How to Speak Without Notes

speakerHave you ever listened to a sermon, or been present at an event, where the speaker read almost his or her entire talk?

We all have. And did you feel engaged? Of course not. Even if it was a good talk, you likely found it boring because the speaker wasn’t making an emotional connection with you. You couldn’t really see their emotion because their head was downturned.

I always feel a bit cheated when someone reads their sermon, because I could have just read it, too. In fact, if you’d handed me a paper copy, I could have read it in five minutes and be done with it. Instead, I have to sit here for half an hour and listen to you read it.

Much of what we communicate, though, is not in our words. It’s in our body language: our facial expressions, our movements, our tone of voice. That’s what makes a talk powerful, and that’s what communicates to an audience!

The goal for every speaker should be to deliver a talk with very little reliance on notes.

That doesn’t mean you don’t bring up notes with you; only that you do not read from them.

For many people that sounds intimidating. How can you memorize everything you want to say in 45 minutes? But you don’t have to memorize it. What you need to do is own it, so that it becomes a big part of you. Don’t teach; inspire. And then it will flow out of you. Here are some pointers:

1. Don’t have 15 main points; have one overarching thing that you’re leading up to. Everything has to relate to that. That way your brain isn’t cluttered. It’s clear where you’re going.

2. Use a lot of stories. You don’t have to read stories word for word; they’re your stories! I’ll write more later about how to come up with anecdotes, but remember that it is the stories that people recall, even years down the road. They may not be able to tell you what your points were, but they’ll remember the story.

3. Write down your points in point form. This gets away from the impulse to read your notes, and just tells you where you’re going. So for instance, my notes for part might look like this:

Christmas Tree Story
Point of Life: Individual
God’s Calling

No one else really knows where I’m going with that, but I do. It’s meaningful to me. And I can fill in the blanks.

4. Practice. The more you deliver the talk, the less you’ll need the notes. And that’s a good thing, because quite often I have found God “add” a point to a talk I wasn’t originally intending to give. It just came out, and chances are that’s what people will comment on afterwards. When I’m flexible, it’s easier to add these things that God may have for that specific audience.

5. Try to condense your notes to your talk onto one or two pieces of paper. Print it in a large font so you can see quickly where you are by glancing down. Bold your key points, or your transition to point 2, etc., so that it’s easier to find your place.

It’s okay to read direct quotations. No one minds you doing that. If you’re reading a passage that C.S. Lewis once said, you do not have to memorize it. But if you can give the rest of your talk keeping eye contact with the audience, then they know that you’re passionate about the subject.

When you can deliver a talk without notes, you communicate several things. You say, “this is something I really care about. This is something I believe.” It had that much of an impact on you that it can flow from your heart. When you read your notes, you communicate the opposite. You say, “I’m not really sure where I’m going. I don’t know how important this is.” And the audience is more likely to tune out.

It can be intimidating going up there with few notes. But if you have structured your talk well, chances are you need them less than you think you do. Just practice with it. Write out a talk in point form, and see if you can deliver it. I’ll bet you can! And it gets easier the more you do it!

Want to learn more about how to use stories in your talks? Get my audio download, Crafting a Life-Changing Signature Talk.


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