Two speakers, two distinct styles. With the first, the words were delivered in methodical batches, there was plenty of time for my mind to stretch and yawn. With the second, the words flowed and splashed, my mind was kept busy mopping up spillage. The first had a thing for his notes, it was a serious relationship. The second had no such attachments, he was script-less and prone to wander.
In these two cases the formality and fluidity of the talks were influenced by the degree to which speaking notes were utilized. Is the right conclusion no notes is better? Let’s consider some pros and cons.
There are good reasons why speakers want to establish positive visual connection with the people in the room. It establishes rapport and communicates confidence and authority. If our head is down either reading or checking notes, then eye contact is reduced and our positive connect with the audience is diminished.
A speaker that is overly dependent on speaking notes could be perceived as not fully there. They are in the auditorium but their notes form a scripted bubble. The speaker misses out on the opportunity to read the crowd and the situation and to enhance their relationship with the audience by making timely comments.
Coherency of Thought
This doesn’t mean I am advocating total improvisation. Planning, preparation and rehearsal are key to presenting a persuasive talk. Without a good measure of hard work before we step up to the lectern we are primed to experience verbal tailgating. That occurs when the rate of speaking overtakes the sense and readiness to say what should be said next. In those tailgating moments what is said is not only unplanned and unscripted but often unhelpful. Speaking notes regulates our verbal traffic and bring clarity to the delivery.
Notes can do more than deter fender benders, they can enable us to deliver well-timed pithy soundbites. In our preparation we may have landed on a great way to express a point or summarize an idea. Our memory might recall the gist of what we want to say, but we might not deliver it with all the rhetorical polish we had planned. Notes can provided the necessary ‘runway lights’ to land the point well.
Maybe I should have said that my memory is not reliable enough to deliver a full load of verbal gems without some assistance. That limitation may not apply to you. However, please understand that committing large portions of a talk to memory could have a down side. The delivery could become ‘mechanical’, especially if you are not willing to step away from the memorized points to react to what is happening in the room.
Do you use speaking notes? If so, what form do they take?
Some more of the story
Presentation Tip: Use Notes by Kathy Reiffenstein
An Alternative to Speaking from a Script or from Talking Points by Christopher Witt