How To Give A Presentation Without Using Notes
Pop quiz: What’s the best way to lose your place during your presentation?
Answer: Look down at your notes.
It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? After all, shouldn’t your carefully prepared notes mean you have a greater chance of success? Sometimes, sure. But more often than not, presenters use notes as crutch because they don’t trust their own brains to keep track of it all. And stopping to look at little words on a note card or piece of paper can be distracting enough that it works against you.
However, speakers who train their brains to deliver at their full potential don’t need notes at all. In fact, once you learn how to present without notes, you’ll never want to go back.
That’s why I’m here. In my years as a public speaking instructor and coach, one of the most valuable things I’ve taught my students and clients is how to give a presentation without using notes. And no, the answer isn’t to just look at your PowerPoint slides instead. It’s all about training your brain when you practice. Here’s a powerful technique that will strengthen your memory and help you develop into the kind of speaker who doesn’t need notes to deliver a powerful speech:
Visualize your content
This is not the same as picturing yourself giving your speech (though it’s helpful in terms of calming nerves, that visualization in and of itself doesn’t help you remember your speech). What I mean is to assign a visual image for each point you want to make. All humans are visual learners and your memory is at its strongest when it’s generating pictures instead of words.
Write your speech, and go through the work to refine, revise, etc. When you’re learning and practicing the speech, don’t focus on memorizing the words. Instead, generate a mental image for each point you’re going to make.
For example, I used to teach the occasional history class, and rather than relying on a dry lecture tied to notes, I incorporated telling stories whenever possible. One story was the contentious election of 1800 (this was pre-Hamilton-musical, so no rapping was involved, sadly). To remember how it all went down, I visualized Adams’ and Jefferson’s colorful insults, the newspapers with the false headlines (fake news isn’t new), and details like where they were when they were doing certain things. It played out like a movie in my mind.
Have you ever seen a movie so many times you can recite the lines? Most people have, and part of why we can do this is because of the visuals attached to it.
By essentially creating a movie in my head about this event in history, I stopped worrying about getting each word perfect, and instead focused on the main points and key details to flesh out the presentation. I was able to recall complex info without using notes, or reading slides. As you continue to practice, knowing the words inevitably falls into place. And when you're actually speaking, if you miss a word, you will stay on track because you've remembered the content itself.
This technique works no matter what type of speech, presentation, or training you’re giving, and the more you practice it, the better you will get. And the better you get at visualizing your content to remember your speech, the less you will want to use notes, to the point where notes will inevitably trip you up. After all, when you're up in front of an audience, feeling a little nervous, do you really want to rely on tiny symbols written on a 5x7" notecard to get you through?