Ask a Morningstar: Going Off Notes?

“Do you rehearse?”
“How do you memorize your speech?”

I have had a few conversations (and overheard a few others) lately regarding the process in which one stops using notes while delivery their speeches.

In this edition of “Ask a Toastmaster,” I posed the question to the Morningstars Toastmaster to learn their secret awesome sauce for executing a 5 – 7 minute speech without notes!

Here are their responses:


An Unrehearsed Speech is More of a Road Map
It’s said that the best speech is the unrehearsed, the one where we are not confined to memorizing word for word. When you memorize you are a slave to a script. When you have a unrehearsed speech, you have a road map, of points that you want to make. And if something happens on the day, you can come of the road map and speak to it. If the audience needs a lift – you can come of the road map. It doesn’t matter if you forget something.

I have been a stickler for learning speeches word for word, and one of the things I want to get from Toastmasters is doing the unrehearsed speech. I did my first ever unrehearsed speech with my ice breaker. The gain was – that I felt so much more relaxed, and I didn’t have a stressful week leading up to it. The loss was that I didn’t mention everything I wanted to mention. But so what!
Doing an unrehearsed speech means we must know our stuff, we must know the topic inside out, otherwise we will be stumbling in the dark. So an ice breaker is a great one to begin with. Because we know our life story inside out, upside down and around the merry go round. — Vimalasara M.

Memorization is Key for Writer
I am a writer, and I am aspiring to be able to speak about my writing. So I write first. I write the whole thing. I read it aloud and change it several times. And when I think it is ready, then I start memorizing it. Pretty much word-for-word. When I practise it in a speech format, I find that there are words that need some tweaking, so I re-memorize it.

At first I thought that memorizing would be impossible. But I was inspired by watching three women over several months as they were rehearsing for their leading parts in a stage play. I realized that if they could memorize someone else’s writing word-for-word, then I could probably learn to memorize my own writing. When I asked a fellow Toastmaster how it was that he looked so natural when speaking, he suggested that I try telling a story. We know our stories and, therefore, we don’t really need to rely on writing them down first. So for my next speech, I told a story. Of course, I already had the story written so I worked on memorizing it. It was a breakthrough speech for me.

I need a lot of time to memorize a speech. A full week is good. Due to a lack of time, I challenged myself to go off-script for parts of a few recent speeches. I found myself running back to my notes (written speech) to get back on track rather than winging it. It will take a while before I can deliver an un-memorized speech with ease, but I see it as the next stage in my development as a speaker. — Sheila C.


I’ve Used Little Notes Forever
I’m one of those who have used notes forever – sometimes a detailed script; sometimes only a few words on a small slip. When I use the former it invariably becomes a bit stilted. With a few or no notes, I do find myself in the risk of forgetting something but like an extended Table Topics, there is more of ‘me’ in the speech.

I never have been able to memorize so I do rely on my method subject to my shortcomings. I think it’s a matter of listening to examples for what you can adopt but finally finding what works for you until it’s time to try something new and change. That’s when you wade into the alligators and take another risk.

On the day, I do a little zen like relaxation breathing just before being called and then. …. I stole this. …… I “reach around and flick the switch on my back to ON”. — Frank C.


Practice Rehearsal and Imaging
Excellent question. I always write the speech out in full and initially try to memorize it word for word but then crystallize it into bullet notes which I then use to refresh my memory. Certain words or phrases are vital to remembering the next section of a speech. I’ve found that if I don’t have a good grasp of the flow of the speech and have an image in my mind of where the key phrases are, I can’t give the speech naturally and become nervous and therefore uncomfortable. The audience can sense this. Practice, rehearsal and imaging are what I rely on. — William B.


Crafting a Speech
When crafting a speech, the first thing I do is give it to an audience of one (my cat). This is unwritten, unrehearsed. It’s just me walking around the room, saying what comes to mind. I give myself time to rephrase things, back track and try again. If something was good, I make a mental note to put that in the “keep it” file.

When I have the general gist or the logical flow of my speech, I write it down. It also helps with timing. For my 5-7 minute speeches, I keep the word count around 800. If it is a speech with high emotional content or visual aids, I aim for 550 words.

I then print out the speech. I read through it a couple of times, fold the paper in half and put it in my Toastmaster manual. I don’t look at it again. I go back to my audience of one (that darn cat!) and practice my thoughts this time with a timer, trying to get them narrowed down to the 5 to 7 minute range.

Every time I practice the speech, it changes a bit. I’m okay with that. It’s not perfect. I’m okay with that. It’s Weegee. And I’m okay with that. — Weegee S.

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3 thoughts on “Ask a Morningstar: Going Off Notes?

  1. Great stuff. This is my next challenge — winging it within a tight structure. My next speech will be an ‘after dinner speech’ and it absulutely should sound like it is not tightly scripted, so that everyone can feel the fun of the topic. ~ PJr

  2. Weegee I love your posts. I read all of them and find them immensely helpful. I look forward to many more. Cathie

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