Speaking Without Notes

Bin the Notes!

Ditch Your Speaking Notes

Speaking without notes? What, no notes at all?

Are you serious? Why on earth would I ever want to put myself through that ordeal?

Having a script is easier … isn’t it?

Er, well, not necessarily. OK, for most speeches and presentations, the best solution may well be to have limited notes. So here’s how to write speech notes.

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

Shall we explore?

Why Speak Without Notes?

Speaking without any notes brings many positives.

Very importantly, it will allow you to engage fully with your audience.

It will enable you to make full eye contact with them. And you’ll be able to react to their smiles. Put simply, it will help you to really connect with them.

And there’s another benefit. Ditch the notes and you’ll also look more authoritative than if you are constantly looking at notes.

Perhaps strangely, it also feels liberating to speak without notes.

Be reassured, no one expects a speaker to deliver a faultless performance. What your audience wants is to feel that you are knowledgeable and care about your subject.

And they want to feel that you are speaking to them.

But could there be a risk that not having notes suggests you haven’t bothered to prepare? In effect, that you aren’t treating your audience with respect?

No, not if you prepare properly and deliver a convincing presentation.

Knowledgeable Speaking

Of course, speaking without notes requires you to know what you are talking about. But if you don’t know your subject, you shouldn’t be speaking about it in the first place, should you?

No one is going to expect you to be word perfect. In fact, you would be well advised not to try to learn your speech off by heart. It could end up sounding a bit wooden.

Speaking Without Notes – 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. If your presentation has a logical flow it will help you when it comes to delivering it to your audience.

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. They say it would be helpful if you could 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, and the dog on the sofa!)

Create images in your mind to replace speaking notes.

Now apply the same approach to your speech. Try to put the different parts of your speech into ‘rooms’ in your mind.

This will help you to know where you are going next as you deliver your presentation. In effect, you are creating a route map in your brain.

You might find it helpful to prepare your presentation with the aid of a mind-map. It can be an effective way of imprinting your thoughts on your brain.

Visualise your speech with the help of a mindmap

Practice, Practice, Practice!

When speaking without notes, practice, rehearsal, call it what you will, is even more important and 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.

If you can, it’s always better to practise out loud.

When you start you don’t have to do it in a formal way – run through it when you are out for a walk with the dog. If 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. In effect, you are telling a story.

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 should you practise? Probably ten or a dozen full rehearsals will be OK 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 a few times a day if you can. 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. Gradually reduce the number of daily rehearsals if it’s going well.

Once you are happy, practise once or twice a day until you deliver your speech. But do not attempt to memorise your presentation word for word.

While practising, 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.

Remember, your audience doesn’t care too much about a perfectly polished presentation. They want to hear the ‘real’ you.

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.

Last updated 29th November 2023


For  more guidance on speaking without notes, read this article by speaker, author and business coach, Chris Lema.


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