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Speaking Without Cue Cards or Notes

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 15 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
Speech Business Speeches Business Cue

While there's nothing wrong with delivering business speeches with cue cards or notes there's no denying that to do so without them can look very impressive indeed. Many people find this difficult and the fear of public speaking is one reason, but once someone has delivered a few business speeches then that should begin to fade. Should you want to deliver speeches without notes you will need to find out how you learn.

Memorising by Rote Has its Dangers

It is possible to memorise a speech completely, just like actors remember their lines. But the danger here is that the speech becomes too repetitive. In the business world it's quite likely that people will hear you speak more than once and if the speech is exactly the same as one you delivered a few months or even years ago it will turn the audience off.

The key is to tread the middle ground and remember the structure and the key points, but allow the words that deliver them to be different – it doesn't have to be exact.

Learning Styles

I was surprised when after I delivered a speech someone said they were very impressed that I had spoken for that long without any notes. All I had done was to think about the speech while commuting to work for three months, when I had little else to do. That had been enough to drill all the key points and punchlines into my head. I was also surprised because up until then I had thought my learning style was visual.

Without going too deeply into all the different (and competing) theories about the psychology of learning, one model that is widely used today divides learning styles into three types: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic/tactile (all about moving and touching). There are tests that can be performed to find out what your predominant style is.

Applying a Learning Style to a Business Speech

Once you know your predominant style (or styles) you can break down your speeches into units and work out a flow between them. If you have cue cards or notes then this will already be done. Now you need to construct a model of the speech in a form that will work for your style.

For a visual person that would be a picture or diagram, an auditory person a summary in bullet form on one page and perhaps an audio recording of the same. A kinaesthetic/tactile person could make a model or construct a diagram using a computer application. If you are unsure of your style then do all three exercises but then try to memorise the one that felt best when you constructed it. Trying to remember three or four will confuse the issue.

Other Memory Tricks

There are other memory tricks that can be used to learn the key points of a business speech. Roman orators used to visualise rooms in a house, with items placed around the rooms to help them remember what they need to say. You could use this, with each room representing a unit of the speech and items representing key points.

Some people simply assign a bullet point to a finger and literally tick them off on their hands as they speak. Many of these methods are well known and can be learnt from books and tapes.

Practice Makes Perfect

Regardless of your learning style and the model you construct, practice and rehearsal is now vital. Practise on your own, preferably recording the speech so that you can play it back and assess it afterward. This is well worth doing because it stops you wondering if you've missed something, or delivered it in the wrong order, while you are trying to concentrate on delivering the speech. This way you can concentrate on speech delivery and check it all afterwards.

You can then try delivering a business speech to other people, friends or relatives, even though they might have no interest in the subject matter. Eventually you should be able to run through the speech in a way that gets all the main points across and is different each time.

Relax About the Content

One thing you will learn from delivering your business speech to different groups of people, even in a rehearsal, is that actually it doesn't matter if you miss out a point or get some points in the wrong order. No-one will notice small mistakes like that apart from you and people are still likely to take away most, if not all, of what you wanted to get across.

So finalise your structure, make your model, put work into remembering the model then practise and rehearse. After a while you will not only be able to deliver business speeches without visual aids but you will also be able to modify them on the fly, missing out or reordering units of speeches to cater for different audiences.

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