Learning Your Speech By Heart – Talking in Public

Learning Your Speech By Heart

No doubt you are impressed by a speaker that doesn’t use any notes during a presentation. Does that mean you should try to do the same?

Yes and no.

We have to be realistic – about you and your comfort level with speaking in public, your knowledge of the topic, your credibility with your audience, the level of knowledge of your audience, the length of your presentation, your ability to use notes effectively…….

Let me look at these for you.

As I have said before, all speakers feel some degree of nerves before a presentation. Some will identify this as anticipation because it helps them manage the physical manifestation, others actually enjoy the feeling as it gives them some urgency about the process. Regardless of your reaction, (nerves or otherwise) this needs to be part of your consideration when deciding whether to use notes.

Let me be very clear at this point. I do not advocate simply reading a presentation, ever. I mean ever. I have worked with people who believe they could never speak in public, who (like me in the early days) forget the speech they have learned, people who find public speaking and presentations a chore even when they have the skills.

Reading a presentation does not engage you with the audience. At best they will feel distanced from you and the information, at worst they will resent what they perceive as your lack of respect for the occasion and them by not bothering to bring any of yourself into the presentation.


Think of any presenter you admire – do they read a presentation word for word or do they use notes effectively?

The last three words are the key – use notes effectively.

I actually don’t ever recommend you learn a speech to be able to present it without notes. This is not a competition. If you are looking for help with a public speaking competition, this post will not be of use to you, sorry.

Go back to the questions I recommend you use to write your presentation. The whys….why are you presenting, why are the audience there etc etc

As good as you may be at the topic in question, the best safety net you can have is a page of dot point notes to keep you on track, to make you pause, to ensure that if you are interrupted you can get back to the points you want to make. You don’t have to refer to it very often during your presentation but you can make it work for you and become part of your presentation style.

Recently I gave an after dinner speech to a group of people who had just finished a very important national competition of flower arranging. Some of you may know that this is also a passion of mine – on this occasion I was there to speak not to arrange flowers.

This is a group I know well, I know the topic, I knew what I wanted to say. Even with all of that in my favour, I still took notes with me to the podium. I still referred to them during my presentation. I used the times I referred to them to emphasise a point I had just made and to help the group stay focussed for the next part of my presentation. If nothing else, bringing notes to the stage shows you have prepared for this presentation.

In summary then I suggest:

  1. Write your speeech/presentation
  2. Learn as much as you can
  3. Take your notes with you to the stage
  4. Start without looking at the notes, then refer to them during the presentation, either by glancing down or pausing to read (to yourself) the next point you want to make before you say it.

Never rely on your memory, no matter how good or how reliable it is. Practice using the notes and combining your strong start and finish with some measured reference to your notes during the presentation.

Writing a Speech