Communication is best when you associate with your audience; you talk with them not talk “at” them. You look into their eyes and understand how they are taking your speech. Of course, if you are speaking from an extremely high stage and have an audience of a few thousand then you apply a different method to associate with them. It is all possible only when you know your speech and know your audience. Reading a speech is almost next to a crime unless it is desired by the procedure or convention.
You can practice your presentation until it becomes second nature. You may even memorize your speech. However, there is no rule you must not break. Never, never, read your speech. Speakers who read a presentation will never connect with their audience. Even worse, their speech will be forgotten as quickly as the session is over.
The names of three political figures would be enough to remind you how it feels when someone reads the speech and when someone speaks from heart – Ms. Mayawati, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpeyi and our PM Shri Narendra Modi.
It is natural to be anxious and feel the adrenaline pumping before beginning your speech. Some speakers, however, write out every word and cling on to their texts. They are nervous about losing their train of thought or “freezing” on the platform.
How do we neutralize these fears and give a memorable presentation – without reading? Great keynote speakers are usually great “keyword” speakers. They arrive at their destination by carefully following a “three-step” method of preparation –
Step one – Write your speech completely – word by word.
Step two – From the finished product, make an outline.
Step three – Create a “keyword” outline, choosing words that will remind you of the content in each main point.
Even when you are reading from a written text, never miss glance at your audience occasionally, look for signals, you will find out if they are enjoying the information that you are delivering or getting bored, sleeping, and yawning. Since eye contact is so important, avoid the temptation to read complete phrases.
Your notes could be a vital part of your presentation, not an escape hatch in case your mind suddenly goes blank. When you know your material, the keyword outline is all you need. It takes only a split second to glance down, look at the word, and deliver the material from your heart.
If it gives you reassurance, go ahead and write out the first two or three phrases of your speech on a note card. Don’t plan to read these words. Memorize them. Just knowing they are available on the card can boost your confidence.
The only time you may want to read from a note card or sheet of paper is when referring to a detailed statistic or when delivering a quote that must be exact.
I am suggesting eight keys for more effective use of notes:
- Use 4×6 cards or an A4 sheet of paper. Be sure you can easily see your keywords while the card or paper is on the lectern. Don’t write too small and try to cram everything on one sheet. You may use block letters instead of cursive writing unless you are very sure to read your own handwriting. Write notes by yourself always, don’t ask someone to write it for you. If you are printing your notes printed, you should use 14- or 18-point font.
- Number your pages or cards and write page numbers at the same location on all the pages.
- Use only one side of the page or note unless you are really running short of pages.
- It’s ok to glance at your notes when necessary – it reassures you and shows your listeners that you are prepared, but it should only be a glance not a gaze, so remember to bring your eyes quickly back to the audience.
- Review your keywords, just before the speech. Be sure each word reminds you of the complete point you need to make.
- Don’t fumble with your notes. Keep them on the lectern. (If you remember the famous Rahul Gandhi clip going rounds on the internet where while speaking to an audience during promoting congress election candidates, he is fighting to get the notes page on which he has written the names of the candidates saying “.. Ye sab log aap ke liye ladai kar rahe hain.. kahan gaye unke naam.. yes sab log aapke liye…. Kahan gaye unke naam”
- Practice until you feel comfortable, moving away from the lectern. Stay animated, although you may occasionally glance at your notes, consider using annotated handout. If you are using some stories or anecdote during your presentation, use your keyword to remind them, also keep a pointer to the place where you wish to introduce the anecdote or story.
- Using notes during presentation without being noticed is also an art. The professional speakers use it with subtlety while moving around; they quickly glance at the notes, while the audience is looking at their movement. But as I have already said, its ok to glance at notes for reference, don’t consider it cheating, because you are not giving memory retention test.