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February 2002 - How many notes should I use?

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February  2002

How many notes should I use?

People often ask: When I speak, how many notes should I use? Should I write out my speech? Should I memorize it?

Speakers generally use one of four common forms of presentation: (1) speaking from memory, (2) speaking impromptu with no specific preparation, (3) speaking extemporaneously—ideally with good preparation and using a limited number of notes, or (4) reading from a manuscript.


Speaking from memory is the poorest method of delivering talks. Memorized talks can’t be adapted to the immediate situation or audience reaction. Moreover, this method often destroys spontaneity and a sense of communication. Memorization also requires much preparation. And there is always the danger that you might forget.


Speaking impromptu requires a great amount of skill and knowledge. This method works best for speakers who are saturated with their subjects and have the ability to organize their thoughts as they speak. Even these experienced speakers fall back on thoughts and phrases they have used many times before.


Extemporaneous speaking usually produces the best results. With this method, the talk is carefully planned and outlined in detail. The speech is planned idea-by-idea rather than word-by-word. Ideas and supporting data are weighed in advance, yet the speaker has freedom to adapt to the occasion and adjust to audience reaction. In short, the extemporaneous method permits the speaker to adhere to two vital needs of effective speaking: adequate preparation and a lively sense of communication.


Reading a talk from a manuscript allows for planning the exact words and phrases to use, but disadvantages usually outweigh the advantages. Many speakers use the manuscript as a crutch instead of thinking about what they are saying. All too often the written talk sounds like an essay rather than a speech.

Sometimes you must use a manuscript, especially if you want to ensure that you don’t misspeak. Next month I will tell how to speak effectively from a manuscript.

John Kline
Troy, Alabama

February 2002 - How many notes should I use?
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