Delivering a speech without notes

You look good when you don’t use notes. You can look at your audience rather than down at your hands or the lectern. You are free to gesture rather than fumbling with index cards.

But venturing on stage without a safety net is scary. If your mind goes blank you’re options are to improvise or wait for inspiration that may never come. Even worse, the fear of fumbling forgotten words can frighten people into over-rehearsing, leading to a dull, robotic recital.

How can you avoid these extremes?

After deciding to go note-less you must decide what you are going to remember. Are you going to memorize you speech word for word? Or are you going to memorize a few key points and improvise around them? Both have advantages and disadvantages. Word-for-word allows you to deliver a speech that has been refined, but will take longer to memorize and may not sound as natural. Talking around key points leaves your speech open to last minute additions or changes, but may lack the polish of a speech that has gone through several revisions.

Large bodies of text are impossible very difficult to remember. But if you are very familiar with the topic you are probably able to speak about it without the restriction of notes. After giving a talk several times I have found that I no longer need to use notes. This is because I have become very familiar with the key points and supporting information so I can improvise around them. As I am always working towards a sub-point or conclusion I don’t lose my place. If you focus on remembering your core message and supporting points you can deliver a well structured speech without having to learn it word-for-word.

Word-for-word speeches are more appropriate when attention to detail is required. When a lot of effort has been put into rhetoric and imagery you want to do it justice by remembering everything.

With short speeches, such as the ones I’ve delivered at toastmasters, I’ve found eighty percent is memorised when I’ve finished writing. I’ll learn the rest by reciting the entire speech, without any notes, and when I hit a bit I can’t remember I’ll make-up something roughly equivalent. I’ll often incorporate this new text into the speech as it sounds more natural. I’ll keep doing this until the whole thing is memorised.

When I’ve learned the text I usually practice it aloud between ten and twenty times. I try and make the rehearsals as real as possible. I stand up. I make eye contact with an imaginary audience who I visualise reacting to my speech. Then I subject a friend to a preview, either in person or on Skype. This is not for their feedback, I just want to get comfortable delivering the material in-front of real people.

The way you rehearse impacts the way you will deliver your speech. In his book Step by Step to Stand-up comedy Greg Dean stresses the importance of good rehearsals:

How you rehearse is how you will perform.

If you rehearse by pacing back and forth, looking at the ground and trying to remember what you’re supposed to say next, then you’ll perform pacing back and forth, staring at the ground, and still trying to remember what you’re supposed to say next.

If you are practicing a memorised speech, don’t just focus on the words. Make sure that your rehearsals aren’t delivered with a dull monotone voice. Practice vocal variety, expressions and eye contact.

Good luck going note-less.

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  1. By Effective use of Notes | The Naked Speaker on August 13, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    [...] The Naked Speaker A public speaking blog Skip to content HomeAboutResources « Delivering a speech without notes [...]

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