Monday, February 09, 2009

How to Give a Speech Without Notes

For many people giving a speech causes them to turn tail and run or break out in a cold sweat. They would rather die than walk up to a podium and talk. This phenomenon is actually documented. When people are asked what their number one fear is, an astounding majority say speaking before groups. Death comes in second.

So, why in the world would anyone want to give a speech without notes? After all aren't our notes there to help guide us through the speech? Aren't they there to keep us from forgetting what we intended to say? Aren't they there to prevent that ever-fearful event: our minds going blank?

My answer to these questions is a resounding no! When you depend too much on your notes you are putting your brain on cruise control. As the pilot of your speech, imagine if your notes suddenly flew across the room and all your papers scattered into the wind. What would you do? Pilots depend on their co-pilot to take over. You don't have a co-pilot. You must depend on your brain.

The purpose of this paper is to give you some tips to train your brain to work for you. The goal is to free yourself from dependency on your notes. When the wind blows and your notes fly away (or your computer crashes the night before your presentation), do not panic. Instead, toss your head back with confidence and say, "It's ok. I can deliver this speech blindfolded."

How Do You Do It? How Do You Train Your Brain and Rid Yourself of Those Pesky Notes?
First of all, you don't have to be completely note-free. You can take your notes to the podium as you usually do. You can place them on the table before you as always. What will be different this time is that you will never look at them! You have them there, just in case. But as your confidence grows with working without notes, you will suddenly notice, you don't need them anymore. I have reached a point where my notes have been dwindled down to a single note-card (and this is for a 30 minute presentation), which I place in the pocket of my jacket. I never pull it out.

How do you think the great musicians play without music? How do they reach a point in their careers when they can perform a 10 to 12 page piece without a single sheet of music in front of them? You know the answer to this question. Practice! Practice! Practice!

Preparing for your presentation requires diligent and planned practice. I heard someone say once, "If you aren't prepared, you ought to be scared." Yes, practice will make perfect and practice will enable you to toss your notes to the wind.

Believe it or not there are some people who are so frightened by speaking they do not want to think about it. They postpone working on their speech or presentation because the thought of it terrifies them. These people shun practice out of fear and thereby assure themselves that their worst fear comes true. If you are not willing, or unable to practice, you had better not walk up to that podium. Your notes will not help you. Nothing will.

How Do You Practice?

*Decide what you are going to say and write it out. Write down everything, even your jokes, antidotes and examples.
*Read aloud what you have written. Re-write and re-write to make the speech conversational. Re-write to make sure the speech fits in the time allotted. Add and remove portions.
*Now that you have your speech written exactly as you want it, read it aloud five times in a row. After each reading, lift your eyes from the page between paragraphs. Before you look down, try and think about what comes next, paragraph by paragraph (or section by section).
*By the fifth reading you are ready to take your speech off the written page and put it on note cards. You will put words or sentences on the note cards that will transition you to the next part. These are the stumbling places you noted while you were reading.

You are reading: "My biggest fear in making presentations is that I will lose my place and forget what I am about to say. One of the tricks I use to make sure I will remember is. . ."
Oops you forgot what comes next. You look down on your notes and see "to prepare a PowerPoint slide."
You will write PowerPoint on your note card.
*Now that you have your speech on your note cards in bullets, practice your speech with your cards 5 times over two days. This time you don't want to practice too many times in a row. You want your brain to expand. This practice process isn't just about memorization. It's about putting your brain to work--teaching it to expand with you. Notice after each practice how often you have to look down on your cards. Notice if you add some content or a new story. If so, jot those things down on your cards, rework your cards and start over.
*After the fifth practice, you are now ready to abandon the note cards. Practice your speech in the shower.

Practice while walking your dog. Practice while driving your car. Practice your speech at least 10 times in places where notes are impossible. Pay attention to the spots where you stumble or forget what is next. For example, if you are practicing in the shower and you are mid-way through your speech and can't quite remember the next part, that is perfectly fine. As soon as you come out of the shower, go find your notes. When you see what jogs your memory, you are off and running again. The next time, in the shower or in the car, you will remember that part and go on. I suggest at least 10 practices before your presentation. But once you are giving your speech with ease and your notes are clearly in your head, you are ready (even if you only practiced like this 4 or 5 times).

If you prepare and practice and leave your notes on the podium or in your pocket, you will discover that speech making is actually fun. Your brain loves the exercise and you will know that no matter what happens to that little note card, you will successfully deliver your speech. Nothing will stop you now!
Imagine how impressed your audience will be! How did she do it and without notes? Only your dog knows your secret!

With over 18 years experience as a speaker and trainer, Dr. Joan Curtis brings energy and enthusiasm to her programs. You can, too! Join her active website. Get access to dozens of articles on communication and the free mini e-course, Say It . . . Just Right.