7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes

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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.

Better preparation makes you a better speaker. Click To Tweet

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.

Not using notes almost always makes you more effective as a communicator. Click To Tweet

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.

When you read a speech, people think you're insincere and inauthentic, even when you're not. Click To Tweet

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.

It's completely disengaging when a public speaker won't look you in the eye. Click To Tweet

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.

Learning to give your talk without notes will force you to digest it, internalize it and own it. Click To Tweet

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.

You’ve Prepared Your Sermon. You’re Ready For Sunday. But Is It Any Good? Will It Land?

Here’s the problem... you only ever find out if your sermon didn't connect after you've already preached it.

So, what can you do when seminary didn't really prepare you to speak into the current reality of our culture or connect with a growing audience?

What will change that?

Option #1 - Years of trial-and-error (what I did).

Option #2 - Transform your preaching starting today.

While there are aspects of preaching that are out of our control, certain skills that make a sermon engaging, memorable, and relevant can be learned and practiced.

That’s exactly why Mark Clark (Senior Pastor at Bayside Church) and I created The Art of Preaching. It's our comprehensive guide that will transform your preaching—from preparation to delivery .

The course covers the foundations of truly effective preaching:

  • Understanding what God has called you to do
  • How to ensure you’re doing exegesis (not eisegesis)
  • Changes you can make to your delivery and weekly process

But it goes WAY beyond that, too. We share our entire method that we use every single time we preach:

  • Specific reasons a sermon may not be effective
  • 5 easy steps you can take to ditch your notes for good
  • The step-by-step process to write a clear and memorable bottom line
  • How to find power in the text
  • And more…

It’s helped 2,500+ pastors preach more engaging and memorable sermons, and it can do the same for you.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.