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David Pibworth | The Blog


The Art Of Public Speaking: Notes On Notes

To use notes, or not to use notes, that is the question ...



Well, when it comes to using notes and publc speaking, you'll be pleased to know my advice is to use them. Unless you are superbly confident or feel the need to prove something, then yes, use them ...

If the notes for your public speaking gig are written by someone else, make sure you read them first.

If the notes for your public speaking gig are written by someone else, make sure you read them first.

copyright: nexusplexus / 123rf stock photo

If I'm giving a speech, I write it out in full - including my ad libs - and read it through again and again. Yes, I do tend to research my speech and write in what appear to be ad libs (an ad lib being an improvised or off the cuff remark).

My point of reference for pretending to say stuff 'off the cuff' (but actually having it prepared) came from Morecambe and Wise, who rattled through their sparkling dialogue with apparent ease, throwing in little asides, seemingly off the cuff, and yet never ad-libbed. It was written and meticulously rehearsed as anyone who appeared with them will tell you. They took their material seriously which is why they rose to the top of their profession.

So, read through your speech again and again, adjust and refine it, so that you more or less know it off by heart, but I do stress that you don't need to learn it. Not learning it verbatim, in my opinion, does keep it fresh. Obviously as an actor in a production, this doesn't apply, but that's a totally different field, and is not to be confused with public speaking.

"What I then do is to condense it into headings with specific parts underlined or highlighted in green."

Doesn't have to be green of course. I just happened upon a job lot of green highlighting pens. This gives me prompt notes, so having finished one section of the speech, if I forget where I am, I glance down at the notes and pick up the next section and carry on.

I always have a glass of water and quite often take a sip while looking down at the notes. Your audience don't mind you having notes on speeches or presentations, and also they don't mind if you don't rush it.

The worse thing is if you just read from the notes. I have occasionally seen people do this and it doesn't work. It's usually done by people who have little experience of public speaking and lack confidence. You need to engage the audience which can only be done by looking at them and you can't achieve that by reading from copious notes.

The only way to be confident of a speech is to know it. Not learn it word for word, but 'know it', if you see what I mean. You must know exactly where you're going and what you are trying to achieve. In my case it's usually just entertaining people, although I do sometimes teach magic, but whatever you are doing you need to research, do notes and be fully prepared.

In my opinion, all public speaking needs to follow the same rules. Sometimes in presentations, it will be done alongside a power point presentation but that's just a tool and it is you who need to make the impression.

At the top, I mentioned that you can learn a speech if you are superbly confident or need to prove something. Yes, there are some people who are so confident that they give them with no notes but often they are trying to prove something, such as politicians.

David Cameron seemed to win his leadership bid because he went out and gave a noteless speech and everyone said "Oh, did you see his speech, he didn't have any notes". Very little mention of what he actually said, so I suppose it worked in his case.

Ed Miliband later gave one and forget to mention something major in it, so it can backfire even with the most confident of people. Both Miliband and Cameron are very good speakers, which is just as well, as that's how they'll both have to earn their living now.

So the bottom line is, yes, do use notes. Rehearse and rehearse, then rehearse again. The one thing I do mention to people who are giving any talks or presentations is to just 'be yourself'. You are usually hired or asked because you are you. Don't change your voice or your normal speech pattern, and if someone is helping you write a speech then they should chat to you about how you would best put over a point, joke or anecdote.

I have spent ages working with people and one of the most important areas is to get them to speak as they normally do. I've seen slightly bumbling people go down a storm, because they have known exactly what they're doing and have done it in their own bumbling way, but they've been confident.

"People want to hear you and you can earn quite decent money out of it if you work at it."

The other thing is - especially regarding jokes or funny lines - 9 times out of 10 what you first think is funny, is funny. Constant repetition can sometimes get you worrying about it after a while. You start to question if it is as funny as you initially thought. So try it out on someone. Wife, partner, good friend, or anyone you can trust.

Never change a speech just before you go on as it can be tempting for those less experienced, but if you've done your research it will go well, and believe me if you change it last minute it is almost certainly going to be problematic.

Just one word of warning though. There was an MP who was such a good speaker and sight reader that he used to just pick up his speech from his speech writer (yes they all have speech writers) and wheeze into the House of Commons and read out his speech.

He was very good as he would speed read down the page, so that he could look up to make a point. However on one occasion he was reading out his speech beautifully and got to the bottom of the page where it said ''And so my main point of today, something that shamefully no one else in the chamber has picked up on is ...'' and he turned over the page and it just said ''Now you're on your own, you bastard ...''

So the lesson there really is that you should be nice to people on your way up as you'll surely need them on your way down ... and always ensure you know what your notes say, especially if you didn't write them yourself.

Until next time ...


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More about David Pibworth ...

David is the owner of David Pibworth Productions (DPP) which provide corporate entertainment and also actors for corporate training and development.

Having worked in the Light Entertainment field for many years and produced shows for Al Murray & Joe Pasquale amongst others, David is in a position to advise on well-known comedy and musical acts. DPP also represent Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's scripts which include Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.

He is the director of MK Theatre of Comedy who are very well known locally for their stage adaptations of classic comedy scripts such as Fawlty Towers, The Vicar of Dibley, Allo Allo and many others.

He is a long-standing member of Equity and the Directors Guild of Great Britain and has acted in, and directed, many productions over the years, mainly in Light Entertainment, but with occasional forays into Shakespeare etc. Every Christmas he is contracted as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella, currently with 'That's Entertainment' who also use him as a director.

He teaches eccentric magic for The Pauline Quirke Academy and MKTOC also run a youth drama school in Olney from the DPP offices.

David maintains his busy lifestyle is a surefire way to avoid being on any committees. He is married to Julie, and they have one daughter, Esther and live in Clifton Reynes, surrounded by dogs, cats and horses. They live so close to the church that David has instructed his daughter - when he dies and not before - to fire him over the wall from a circus cannon.

Other blog posts you may enjoy ...

A Good Old Fashioned After Dinner Speech
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The Art Of Public Speaking: Standing Still
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The Art Of Public Speaking: Drinking And Swearing
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The Art Of Public Speaking: Notes On Notes
To use notes, or not to use notes, that is the question ...

The Art Of Public Speaking: The Element Of Surprise
Keeping the attention of your audience ...

The Art Of Public Speaking: Your Friend, The Microphone
It's nothing to be scared of ...

Comedy In Public Speaking
Be yourself ...