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?

Want to get better? Few resources have helped me as much in the last few years as Preaching Rocket (affiliate link).

I’ve been through their entire coaching programming and it’s been fantastic for me both as a preacher and a conference speaker.

If you want to explore it for yourself, you can try Preaching Rocket for free for 7 days.

Those are seven reasons I see for speaking without notes.

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


  1. 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. […]

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

  3. 6 Sermon Myths We Need to Bust - Carey Nieuwhof on February 22, 2016 at 10:50 am

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  6. […] communicators who spoke without notes connect better than those who use notes. (In fact, here are seven reasons why it’s better for communicators to speak without notes), but I was at a loss to figure out how to become […]

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

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  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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

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