Stop Taking Notes

I’ve seen a lot of people taking a ridiculous amount of notes before a presentation. Worse yet, they were rehearsing their speech word by word, reading it over and over.

That is a really bad idea. I can’t emphasize how bad of an idea it is.

Learning a text by heart, without being motivated by its meaning, will render any speech void, flat, boring, lacking substance.

An ingenious presentation is not spoken, it’s felt. It’s not about the words; it’s about the state of mind you convey to your audience. Do not learn your notes by heart under any circumstances. The only notes you’re allowed to take should be written on post-its – as few as possible. Better yet – use a napkin for brevity.

The only thing you should memorize is the order of the ideas: the first idea and the next idea; and the idea after that; until the last one.

Rather than memorizing raw data focus on what you want your listeners to feel. Imagine you’re trying to explain something to a friend who’s asked you for advice. Visualize what the desired impact of your message is and focus on that impact, on that enthusiasm. This will influence your meta-language (gestures, face expression, pitch, tone, rhythm) in the best way possible. Moreover, it will give your speech a very natural, very personal flow.

No matter if you’re pitching an investor, selling to a potential client or just presenting the monthly report to your boss, try as much as possible to focus on your inside view of the matter at hand. Rely on external sources as less as possible; not at all if possible. Are you excited about what you’re talking about ? Envision that excitement and try to explain it – in your own words. Forget what you memorized and what is written in the visual support (the Power Point is for your audience, not for you – we’ll get to that in a following post).

At first, you’ll be under the impression you cannot go without writing down 900 words of “important stuff you have to say”. This is just an illusion, an excuse you’re hiding your fear under. But throw away the notes, call a friend who’s willing to spend an hour or two and give the speech to him/her. This will help you enable exactly those areas of the brain you need – those involved in communication, speech, and empathy. The parts of your brain which retrieve exact memories will be turned off and your mind will be free to improvise, to react, to leave its authentic mark.

How do you take notes before a presentation?

How do you mentally organize them?

What is the toughest challenge you have faced when preparing a speech ?

This blog is ultimately about improving your skills and perception on public speeches, so needless to say your feedback is highly appreciated.

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2 Comments

  1. May 12, 2010
    Reply

    As someone who doesn’t write down more than one sentence of “notes” for each slide I can’t help but strongly and fully agree with you on this post! 😀

    • May 13, 2010
      Reply

      Thank you for your feedback.
      The true challenge however is to convince other readers to reduce the amount of notes they take for their presentations, one line at a time.

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