How to give a killer presentation without notes

For those who are abundantly familiar with their subject matter and completely at ease in front of an audience, this is the next huge step toward becoming a speaking star.

Are you comfortable with speaking from a well-researched and rehearsed outline? If so, you may be ready to transition from extemporaneous speaking to presenting with no notes.

Doing so will allow you to become more dynamic and authoritative in your style—you can move freely in the speaking area because you aren’t tethered to the lectern, and you can make lasting eye contact because you aren’t glancing at notes or a script.

If and when you are ready to speak without notes, here are a few suggestions to make the transition easier:

1. Memorize selectively.

Giving a presentation with no notes doesn’t mean that you have to memorize an entire script. Word-for-word memorization is time consuming, can cause a catastrophic failure if you blank out mid-delivery, and can lead to a wooden delivery if you focus on recalling specific words rather than connecting with your listeners.

Instead, memorize the outline of your presentation (the two or three main ideas and a few pieces of supporting material for each), the opening and closing lines (so you start and end with confidence), as well as any key transitions (places where you have to pivot carefully from one idea to the next so audience members understand your logic). Memorizing selectively means that your speech will be a little different each time you deliver it—and that’s just fine.

2. Tell stories.

Whenever you can, use stories, examples and anecdotes about yourself or situations you know well to support your main points. Stories provide powerful “data,” and more important, they are much easier to remember and share than facts and figures.

3. Use visual aids strategically.

When you’re speaking without notes, use visual aids to convey key numbers, figures, and other types of specific information that would be difficult to commit to memory. Depending on the situation, you can use a paper handout or presentation software to display graphs, charts, maps, or infographics for your listeners.

Once you are presenting, you’ll have access to the specific information you want to share without having to memorize it. Additionally, you can include in your visual the source from which you took the supporting material so you can cite it to inform your listeners and bolster your credibility, all without having to memorize the name of the publication, author, date, etc.

4. Rehearse more.

You may already know my recommendation that extemporaneous speakers rehearse from a detailed outline at least six times to gain command of their material and to deliver the content in a dynamic manner.

When you are transitioning to speaking without notes, this number increases; for most speakers, it takes a dozen or more rehearsals to master the content of a presentation that is delivered with no notes, but you may find that you may need more or fewer depending on your proclivity for committing information to memory.

Speaking without notes is not advisable when you are short on time to prepare, when you are less familiar with the subject matter, or when you are delivering a technical talk for which the accuracy of message is paramount.

Presenting with no notes is not appropriate for novice speakers. If you have a solid foundation of experience and confidence, though, consider taking the leap to presenting without any notes for your next important speech—whether it’s a toast, a conference keynote, a briefing on your area of expertise, a talk at a TEDx event, or even a training program.

These suggestions above should make the transition a little easier.

Christine Clapp is the author of “Presenting at Work: A Guide to Public Speaking in Professional Contexts” and the president of Spoken with Authority.

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