To note or not to note

Everyone tasked with speaking in public has the same choice to make: to make the speech with or without notes. The opinion of some people is that using notes is unprofessional. But is it?

In 1914 a young Winston Churchill stood to speak in the House of Commons. Churchill had memorised his speech, but part-way through he lost his way. He repeated his previous sentence, hoping that would jog his memory. It didn’t. Churchill had to sit down, humiliated. He would go on to make many impressive speeches, all of them with the aid of notes.
So if using notes was good enough for Winston Churchill, it should be fine for all of us to use them. Right?
According to professional keynote speaker Bob Ferguson, a three-time Toastmasters champion, the answer is yes.
And no.

“It all depends on WHY you are giving the speech in the first place,” says Bob. “At one end of the public speaking spectrum there are Professional Speakers. Speaking is their job. At the other end there are business speakers. Speaking is part of their job.”

Bob identifies two major differences between a Professional Speaker and a Business Speaker:

1. Content

Professional Speakers may have three, perhaps four speeches. Some have just one. The Professional Speaker will customise a speech from their arsenal for each engagement, but essentially they are repeating the same performance again and again.

Business Speakers stand up in front of audiences in a variety of circumstances, perhaps covering project updates or sales presentations or team briefings. They’re dealing with new material almost every time they make a presentation.

2. Preparation Time

When Professional Speakers develop their keynote speech(es) they spend a lot of time crafting both the content and the performance. They allow themselves time for research, rehearsal and trial runs. They’ll organise feedback from friendly audiences and hone their product.

That’s not the world the Business Speaker inhabits. Pretty much each speech focuses on new subject matter and will often be delivered at short notice.

Professional Speakers and Business Speakers may seem to be doing the same thing, but only in the way that Usain Bolt and Mo Farah seem to be doing the same thing.

For a Business Speaker, using notes makes sense. Their audience isn’t there to be dazzled by performance, they’re there for information. And if notes help the Business Speaker deliver that information effectively, what does it matter?

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about how we use notes.

Bob Ferguson says, “When I have to use notes I either use small flesh-pink card (so the audience doesn’t see the flash of white on my hand as it moves) or I use a speech map (rather like a mind map) which I put on a music stand set at under waist height. That way I can see my aide memoir clearly but it doesn’t interfere with my engagement or eye contact with the audience. I also put small props on my music stand so I’m not retreating to the back corners of the stage, where the lecterns normally are, to retrieve my visual aids.”

For those still feeling a little sniffy about the use of notes, consider this: What do these iconic speeches have in common?

• John F Kennedy’s Man to the Moon speech
• Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech
• Winston Churchill’s We will fight them on the beaches speech

They were all made behind a lectern … with notes!

If you would like help in becoming more confident with your speeches then we have courses planned across the UK and we can also come to your business.

10 Reasons your Public Speaking is sending the audience to sleep

Public speaking is an art – ask anyone who’s sat through a poor presentation.

It’s a sad fact, but overall the standard of public speaking falls well below where it should be, and that’s a pity, because being an accomplished speaker is an excellent route to raising a business profile.

And with that in mind, here are some pointers from Barbara Moynihan, a Past President of Toastmasters International (Dun Laoghaire club). Barbara believes there are 10 ways a public speaker can sabotage their presentation:

1. Poor rapport. The easiest way to get an audience on your side is to smile, start on time, dress appropriately for the occasion, and ensure you finish on time.

2. Not being authentic. The best speakers are confident, and it’s easier to be confident if you’re comfortable, and it’s easier to be comfortable if you’re being yourself. But sometimes we need to practice being ourselves. Try recording yourself on your phone, or even video yourself. Is the person you see and hear really you, or someone who looks like you pretending to be something you’re not?

3. Not minding the gap. Silence can speak volumes. Emphasise your key points by using pauses to add impact.

4. Being stone-faced. Engage the audience by engaging the 80 muscles in our face. You can produce around 7,000 facial gestures. Use more than one.

5. Avoiding the audience. Don’t be afraid, look them in the eyes. Do not spend your talk turning away from the audience to read from your PowerPoint. Slides should enhance your talk, not act as subtitles.

6. Too much tech-talk. Avoid TLAs. People don’t like it when they don’t understand Three Letter Acronyms. Unnecessary technical detail is another turn-off. Keep your message simple, and in English.

7. Being too serious. Everyone likes to laugh, but that doesn’t mean you have to be Michael McIntyre. If you can tell a joke, great. But if that’s not you, there are other ways to inject humour into your presentation. Try anecdotes, relevant pictures or short movie clips; Google and YouTube are your friends.

8. Poor planning. Your presentation is like a novel or a movie. It needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Keep the structure of your talk simple, with clear signposts and transitions to help your audience follow your narrative.

9. Lacking energy. Don’t be Mister or Ms Monotone. Project your voice, vary your pace and pitch, and be animated, using gestures to emphasise points.

10. Being boring. Adjectives, adverbs, metaphors and similes are what Toastmasters champion Andrew Brammer calls “linguistic sparklers”. Remember to sparkle.

Hopefully those tips will encourage you to polish your presentation skills and reap the benefits of public speaking. And if you really want to be inspired, join us on our Keynote Speaker Course and we will help you sparkle in front of your next audience.