Here in Britain, it’s party conference season; over in America, they’re building up to a general election. Our airwaves are clogged with politicians making speeches and, far more than the content, the pundits are chattering about who looks confident, who delivers smoothly and who (oh, wow!) talks for an hour without notes.
This tension between form and substance is a fascinating area and one I’ll return to in a later post, but for today let’s look at how you can make a speech without needing to refer to notes.
Good notes act as a map, not as some sort of driving-instructor-cum-SatNav. You don’t want a document that tells you every detail but a quick reference guide so you can see where you’re going. If you are an inexperienced driver – to continue the metaphor – or if you’re driving an unfamiliar car, it makes sense to bring the instruction manual (script) with you, as well as the map, but only in case of emergency.
As I said in an earlier post (The importance of structure), it’s essential to give your talk a logical shape. It’s your job to deliver information. If you drop off some here, some miles over there, some back towards where we started and so on, your speech or presentation will fail. Plan a sensible route and the journey becomes instantly more purposeful and enjoyable.
To look at it another way, think of your talk as a story. A strong story with a clear arc is easy to remember. Now this is win-win, because not only is it easy for the teller to recount without notes, it’s easy for the listeners to take in and retell to others afterwards. And isn’t that what it’s all about?