Speaking Without Notes

Bin the Notes!

To Note or Not to Note?

Speaking without notes! What, no notes at all? Are you serious?

Why would I ever want to put myself through that ordeal? Having a script is easier isn’t it?

Er, well, not necessarily.

For most speeches and presentations, the best solution may well be to have limited notes. Here’s how to write speech notes.

However, there could be times when it is more convenient or more beneficial to manage without notes.

Would you like to give it a try?

Why Speak Without Notes?

Speaking without any notes brings many positives.

Very importantly, it will allow you to engage fully with your audience. It enables you to make full eye contact with them. To react to their smiles. And to really connect with them.

Ditch the notes and you’ll also look more authoritative than if you are constantly looking at notes. And it feels strangely liberating to be noteless.

No one expects a speaker to deliver a faultless performance. What they want is to feel that the speaker is knowledgeable and cares about the subject. And they want to feel the presenter is speaking to them.

Knowledgeable Speaking

The problem with speaking without notes is that it requires you to know what you are talking about and to have the confidence to speak from memory.

But surely no one is going to expect you to deliver a presentation on a subject you know nothing about? That’s a good start – you know something, maybe quite a lot, about your subject.

Imagine you were in a 1-2-1 conversation with someone about your subject. It’s just a relaxed chat over coffee.

The other person is interested in the subject. You can talk quite happily can’t you? If they ask questions, you’re able to provide additional information and explanations.

Having established that you can talk easily about the subject, let’s start to turn that knowledge into a speech.

Where to Start?

Start as you would for any other speech: plan it and structure it carefully.

If anything, this is even more important than if you were going to have notes. Having a logical flow will help you when it comes to delivering the speech.

Try to visualise the various elements of the speech.

Do you want to try some easy visualisation?

OK, imagine you are selling your house. A prospective buyer phones you. They live some way off, so before they come for a viewing, they want to know they aren’t wasting their time. So they ask you to describe the house.

Take them on a verbal tour, room by room. (You don’t need to mention the dirty boots in the hall, the unwashed dishes in the kitchen, the dog on the sofa, the cat on the bed or the pile of dirty clothes on the floor in the bedroom!)

Create images in your mind to replace speaking notes.

Now try to put the different parts of your speech into rooms in your mind. If your speech features cats, dogs or washing, feel free to add them. Otherwise substitute elements of your speech instead.

Creating a mind-map can be an effective way of imprinting your thoughts on your brain.

Visualise your speech with the help of a mindmap

Practise, Practise, Practise!

Practice, rehearsal, call it what you will, is the key to success.

To start you may find it works better to focus on one element of the presentation. When you’ve got that more or less sorted in your mind, try a different section.

It’s always better to rehearse out loud. When you start you don’t have to do it in a formal way – run though it when you are out for a walk with the dog. But if the dog heckles you or you are on a bus or train, running through it silently will still help imprint it on your mind.

As you rehearse the speech, try to think of it as going from one room to another. (Try not to trip over the washing.) Ideally you should start practising a couple of weeks in advance. Each time you will say something a little different, but the key elements will still be there.

To start you may still be amending the content. You can try out revisions in your mind before putting all the elements together and trying it out loud.

How Many Rehearsals?

How many times to practise? Apparently, one TED speaker rehearsed 200 times. Really?!

Maybe that’s a bit more than most of us will do. OK, that’s quite a lot more than normal human beings will do. Probably ten or a dozen full rehearsals will be plenty for most of us.

By full rehearsal we are talking about when you have everything pretty much sorted and you are at the tweaking and polishing stage.

Begin by delivering it three or four times a day. Perhaps have outline notes or a mind-map for the first few runs through. Then try without any notes. Do that for a couple of days. Then drop to two or three times daily if it’s going well.

Hopefully, by now you are fairly fluent. If not, then keep practising. Once you are happy, reduce to once or twice a day until you deliver it. But do not attempt to memorise your presentation word for word. Just be confident about your general direction; a bit like going from room to room.

It’s Almost Time (To Speak Without Notes)

It’s important to rehearse out loud in the final stages, and replicate your planned delivery as closely as possible. If you can, record it or better still, video it. It may feel odd, even uncomfortable, listening to yourself, let alone seeing yourself. But it will help you to spot any distractions, such as waving your hands around or umming and erring.

It is also useful to time yourself. That’s particularly important if you’ve been given a time limit. It is far easier to talk for too long than for too little time.

Speaking Without Notes – The Performance

And now for the performance. Be confident. Your audience doesn’t care too much about a perfectly polished presentation.

The reality for most of us is that the more speech notes we have, the more we look at them.

Without notes you can be you.

You can look at the audience and speak directly to them. You won’t say the exact words you’d intended, but that doesn’t matter. No one will know.

The audience just want to hear your message delivered with enthusiasm.

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