7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes

One of the questions I get asked all the time is “how do you speak for 40 minutes without using notes?”

It’s a great question.

Personally, I actually prepare notes, but I rarely if ever use them when I speak.

I create notes (sometimes even scripting out stories word for word) because:

Better preparation makes me a better speaker

Writing down my thoughts clarifies my thinking

My notes give me something to review the day before the talk and the day of the talk.

But then, when I get up on stage, I leave them behind. The only exception is if I need an outline to keep the computer graphics people in sync or I’m using a fill in the blank handout for people—again, so I can track verbatim with their notes and keep us in sync.

And then, it’s just the outline that’s on the screen or in people’s hands that comes with me. No other notes.

But I didn’t start this way as a communicator. Like most people, my first years of speaking were heavily reliant on notes.

I remember that moment early in my ministry when I finally freed myself of notes. It was nerve wracking.

It’s actually not that hard to do, and it’s learnable. But it was so rewarding.

Using notes almost always makes you less effective as a communicator.

In the next post, I’ll look at how to deliver a talk without using notes.

In the meantime, you can track back. This post is part of a bigger series on speaking:

Part 1: How to Design a Message Series That Engages Unchurched People

Part 2: How to Craft a Killer Bottom Line for Your Next Talk

Parts 3: 7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes

Part 4: A 5 Step Method For Delivering a Talk Without Using Notes 

Part 5: 6 Sermon Myths We Need to Bust

So why should you learn to speak without using notes? Because you can. And because it will make you far more effective.

without using notes

7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes

So, why should you do the work and take the risk associated with freeing yourself from your notes? Let’s jump into some reasons. Because when you understand the why, you’ll be motivated to learn the what (the next post in this series).

There are at least seven good reasons to drop your notes:

1. Your favorite communicators don’t use notes

I’m going out on a limb here to guess that your favourite communicators don’t use notes. Why? Because the best rarely, if ever, do. People connect better with speakers who speak without notes. You do. So why not become one?

2. You seem far more sincere and authentic when you don’t use notes

This isn’t a good thing. It’s just a true thing.

You might be 100% sincere and authentic when reading from your notes. But you don’t come across that way.

When you read a talk, or rely heavily on your notes, people think it’s coming from your head, not your heart.

Or worse, they think it’s a series of points you’re supposed to believe but don’t. Freeing yourself up from your notes creates a much more believable message.

When you read a speech, people think you’re insincere and inauthentic, even when you’re not.

3. You will be far more natural

There’s a ‘reading voice’ and a ‘speaking voice’ people have. It takes exceptional skill to read in a way that sounds authentic, conversational and natural.

Let’s be honest. Almost none of us do it well. I don’t, and chances are you don’t either.

When you speak without using notes, you will be far more conversational, engaging and natural. And your body language will be 100% better.

4. You can make eye contact

That’s just huge. It’s annoying when people don’t look you in the eye when they talk to you.

It’s completely disengaging when a public speaker doesn’t.

5. You will read the room better 

So much of communication is non-verbal. While you can’t always see the audience when you talk (in the case of pre-recorded video or dark house lights), when you can, it’s invaluable.

You can see which part of your talks are resonating, and which aren’t, so you can linger longer or move on faster.

You can see who’s leaning forward, and who’s falling asleep. It can help you track how you’re connecting.

And best yet, you can adjust.

6. You’ll own your material more deeply

When you have to ‘say it’ without notes, you’ll own it so much better. Learning your talk forces you to digest it, internalize and own it.

As a result, your talk will be more compelling and authoritative. It just will.

7. You’ll be more vulnerable

Notes are safe. Speaking without them is more risky but more rewarding.

Sure, you might mess up, but laugh at yourself. People will laugh with you.  They’ll like you because you’ll seem human, which, after all, you are.

Want More?

art of better preaching

Ever wish someone could come along side you to walk you through the finer points of the art of better preaching?

That’s exactly what my good friend Mark Clark and I do in our brand new course, The Art of Better Preaching which releases in the summer of 2018. We’ve even got a full unit on how to leave your notes behind the next time you give a talk.

Every week, Mark and I preach to thousands of churched and unchurched people, Mark at Village Church in Vancouver BC, and me at Connexus Church north of Toronto. We have very different styles, which means this course is not a preach-just-like-me approach preaching.

You can customize it to help you preach better messages, and it draws from the rich tradition of different approaches that actually connect with unchurched people. Plus, we share our best secrets on how to craft the best messages we know how to create.

In the course, Mark and I cover:

  • The Why and How of Preaching
  • How to Preach to the Unchurched
  • How to Give a Talk Without Using Notes
  • How to Craft a Killer Bottom Line So People Remember Your Talk Years Later
  • How to Stay Fresh over the Long Haul

And much more.

Interested in getting inside access and information?

Join the waitlist here and be the first to know, and be eligible for exclusive insider bonuses as the course launches.

We’re so excited to help you become the best communicator you can be.

Sunday’s coming, so be one of the first in! 

What would you add? What helped you drop your notes along the way?

16 Comments

  1. Jeffrey Johnston on May 6, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    Carey, you posted something similar to this last year, and it challenged me when I read it. When January rolls around each year, I experiment with my preaching & prep process to push myself to keep growing. 4 months ago, I began the journey toward preaching without notes, and I’m really noticing some improvement so far.

    My initial step was to remove the podium, and stop taking full notes on stage with me. (I wholeheartedly agree with you that working diligently to write out extensive notes is a must during preparation).

    As of now, I just carry up a couple black queu cards with a basic roadmap of my message to reference once in a while as I’m moving through it.

    Of your 7 points listed in the post, I would say that #6 has been most transformational for me. This is where I’ve seen the growth, and I believe it’s starting to translate into people’s hearts and lives, as it’s coming up during moments of feedback.

    I understand from some comments on here, there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all style for preaching. That being said, this has been a big catalyst for me this year, and I appreciate the effort you put into sharing this topic.

    Now that I’m getting comfortable with this new approach, my next step is to experiment going completely without any notes/cards, and see where that lands this Summer.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Albert Herbst on May 1, 2018 at 10:45 am

    I must agree with a number of the comments that I disagree with this article. It is not a bad article and definitely not a bad thing to be able to preach or talk for 40 min without notes. BUT the points you make about the advantages of speaking without notes are definitely not accurate. Most of them I do successfully with my notes. When I preach I rely heavily on the Holy Spirit but I also have well prepared notes that I made under the unction of the Holy Spirit. As a matter of fact the art of speaking publicly for 40 minutes without notes must not be confused with preaching for 40 minutes under the anointing of the Holy Spirit…with well prepared notes. I feel this article is not accurate and very helpful. (Your articles are mostly very good)

  3. Scott on April 29, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    An exception for when working with a translator?

  4. Check Out | HeadHeartHand Blog on April 11, 2018 at 12:00 am

    […] 7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes This is a bit overstated, and might discourage some men who just can’t preach without notes, no matter how much they want to. But hopefully it will at least encourage you to try to become less dependent on notes that you do use. […]

  5. […] Part 3: 7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes […]

  6. 6 Sermon Myths We Need to Bust - Carey Nieuwhof on February 22, 2016 at 10:50 am

    […] Parts 3: 7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes […]

  7. […] Seven very brief responses to Carey Neiwhof’s post, “7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Notes.” […]

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  10. […] 7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes, by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  11. Page not found - Carey Nieuwhof on February 19, 2016 at 7:14 pm

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  12. gary on February 19, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    I actually used to preach all the time with just one sheet of paper. I had a few quotes on it, and used to draw (actually doodle at best) my outline using images and all sorts of things to structure a flow for my thoughts. And, in all honesty I can tell you that yes…It helped me maintain an air of vulnerability and authenticity. But after a while, I found that without expanding my thoughts out more on paper, I would end up relying on certain patterns that didn’t help get the message across because they were patterns that showed up weekly. In other words, I had a bag of tricks (don’t we all) that I relied on that ended up getting overused. NOW, it wasn’t that I didn’t spend lots of time in study, and that I didn’t spend time in preparing. But the fact was that because I wanted to to speak extemporaneously, I could never link my preparation to my presentation. When I started actually writing my sermons out, the quality went up…AND it showed in increases in people inviting their friends, and more people engaging our messages in their small groups (we couple Sunday Morning teaching with our Small Groups who gather during the week. So, I totally get what Cary is saying, and I REALLY wish that it worked for me, but it didn’t.

  13. Robin Jordan on February 19, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    What works well for one person may not always work well for another. I learned in a high school speech class over 40 years ago how to give a talk, maintain eye contact, read the room, etc. while using notes. I also think that it is very presumptive to assume that because a preacher uses notes that the Holy Spirit is absent from his sermon as I sometimes hear. The Holy Spirit is not bound any particular form of preaching nor is a preacher bound to slavishly follow his notes. Notes are an aid to the preacher’s memory. Just that. Some preachers need them; some don’t. What matters most is that the gospel is being preached and the Word explained and applied.

    • Tim Jones on April 29, 2018 at 5:04 pm

      I totally agree. I personally think this was an unnecessary article. I preach to several hundred people each week in a small mill village and never have a problem retaining a crowd and growing a crowd or group. I also know of several mega church pastors that carry ipads to the platform every time they preach.

  14. Deryk Pritchard on February 19, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    Great thoughts! I’ll add one: it takes more faith. When we are relying on God to help us remember what we studied and to give us the exact words in the moment, I believe we are in a much safer place. It is a more vulnerable place for sure, but it is a place that frees us to be led by the Spirit as we speak.

  15. […] Part 3: 7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes […]

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