When a conference speaker reads directly from their notes it doesn’t usually make for the most exciting listening. As an audience member, when someone is looking down you don’t feel connected and it’s hard to pay attention.
“I could have just read the journal article”, you might think.
There’s nothing wrong with notes – except for the fact that almost everyone who does so ends up with monotonous “reading voice”.
The exception is the likes of Annabel Crabb, who I watched read from her notes at the 2017 Women in Mining WA Summit, while remaining gloriously entertaining and engaging. Here are 4 tips for being more Annabel-like fabulous in your next public speaking appearance, by using notes more effectively.
Step 1. Double check that you wouldn’t be better off writing a blog post or recording a podcast than talking to hundreds of people
If you need to read your notes for a talk, would a podcast or written article be more effective? You can reach thousands of people and archive them for later use. If you decide you do really need to speak live, a blog post or recording can capture some of your points as ‘pre-reading’ or followup to compliment your talk.
Step 2. Don’t believe yourself when you say “I’ll have my notes just in case”
Plenty of high-profile speaker use notes (Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales are two great examples). If you will give a better talk with notes, you are allowed to have notes too. But if you are telling yourself you want your word-for-word script in your hand “just in case I lose my spot” you might be kidding yourself. I find this generally doesn’t work. The instant a public speaker with script in hand loses her place and looks down, she starts reading. Rather than a check to re-gain her place she becomes reliant on those notes. Instead: make a conscious decision to use notes or not to use them, and rehearse appropriately.
Step 3. Train yourself out of vague glances to the audience
You learned in highschool that it was important to look up at your audience. It is. But you may have noticed that speakers often look up for a quarter of a second without actually connecting with you. This serves no purpose because you haven’t achieved the point of looking at the audience: to make them feel connected with you. In fact, this kind of audience “vague-ing” can have the opposite effect: losing your place makes you nervous, so you rely on your notes more.
Step 4. Look at your audience, intentionally, take them in – and then read
As MC at the 2017 Women in Mining WA Summit Annabel Crabb relied heavily on notes. If you’ve watched her on TV she often does this in her interviews – for good reason. But Annabel did not use “reading voice” or throw vague glances at the audience. Instead, she looked intensely at her audience in the pauses. Her gaze was intentional, and long enough to feel she had seen us. She then began to read – but magically not in “reading voice”. My clown teacher would always remind us to be their for the audience. With Annabel, we always felt she was there for us.
The next time you are public speaking, remember that what you are doing is, above all, for your audience. Connect with them, and their energy will fuel you, igniting you to give even more.
Read more about speaker coaching for your next conference or professional presentation.