Ask Fred > Career/Work > What about using notes when you speak? Pluses and minuses?

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Dear Fred

What about using notes when you speak? Pluses and minuses?

Fred's Response

One of the finest speakers that I know never uses notes. He stopped after sitting next to an orchestra conductor on a plane who works "without a net." He says that it inspired him to never use notes again. He has an exceptional mind and has joined it to the high determination to go without notes. Personally, I use sparse notes when giving a new talk. I will use one word to remind me of a whole section. Since I speak a great deal extemporaneously I don't script my speeches. It is important that you not "ride the notes." Breaking contact with your audience usually results. If you want your speech to appear exceptionally scholarly you might want to read it, but even then the reading must be rehearsed. And then there is almost an art to the presentation of the material e.g., leather presentation folder, heavy paper and a clear, authoritative voice. Don't be seduced into thinking that an audience always wants a brief speech. A great speech should always be given the time it merits. While this is a little off the subject I would like to throw in the three styles of communicators that I have identified: 1) the orator that borders on actor; 2) the speaker who is well-prepared but restricted to delivering specific material and 3) the talker who handles the subject in conversational style and is more open to spontaneity. The good ones always seem extemporaneous but need to be better prepared than either of the other two categories to have the proper breadth of material at the time of delivery. It is important to know who you are and stay with it. Certain styles lend themselves more easily to notes than others. If you want to switch from one type to another within a speech let the audience know by using a quote. For example, a talker would quote an orator in an oratorical style, but wouldn't shift into that style for the rest of the delivery. To shift styles is tricky and not always successful. Finding your style first and then seeing if notes fit into the style is probably the best way to handle it. But in no case is a dry reading of a canned speech ever helpful to the audience. I once looked at a rookie's speech with the title typed across the top and hoped that he wouldn't begin by reading his title. Thankfully he had a good opening prepared and didn't sound like a high school speech class member!