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How to avoid sounding stiff & robotic when reading from notes

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It's almost impossible to avoid sounding robotic when reading notes, which is one of the main reasons I don't like using them. But if you must use them, here are a few things you can do to help.

The most important is to make your notes easy to read.

  • Double-space the lines; it will make it easier to read.
  • Only use the top two-thirds of each page. That way you won't have drop your eyes right down to the bottom - a swift downwards glance will be all that is required.
  • Make sure each page ends with the end of a sentence. You don't want to be halfway through one when you have to turn a page.
  • Use a large(ish) font - about size 14.
  • Number the pages - if you drop them during rehearsal it will save you a lot of time - but don't staple them together. If you're only using the top two-thirds of the pages and it is a lengthy talk or presentation, there may be a lot of pages. If you turn each page over as you finish it, the audience will notice you doing this every thirty seconds or so and it will become a distraction. Simply slide each page over to the left as you finish it, so that your completed speech ends up reversed, i.e. with the first page on the bottom of the pile and the last on the top.
  • If you are worried about refinding your place when you look at the audience, you'll end up giving them give them short, sharp glances. If you have to, keep one of your index fingers at the appropriate place in the margin.

Churchill always had his speeches typed so they looked like a poem rather than a solid body of text, putting breaks where he felt natural rhythm dictated it. This enabled him to look down and read a sentence, then look at his audience and deliver it.

Take the concluding paragraph from one of his most famous speeches:

"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender , and even if, which I do not for a moment believe this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."

Most people, if making that speech, would have it typed as it is above. This is how Churchill had it typed:

"We shall go on to the end,

we shall fight in France,

we shall fight on the seas and oceans,

we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,

we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,

we shall fight on the beaches,

we shall fight on the landing grounds,

we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,

we shall fight in the hills;

we shall never surrender,

and even if, which I do not for a moment believe

this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving,

then our Empire beyond the seas,

armed and guarded by the British Fleet,

would carry on the struggle, until,

in God's good time,

the New World, with all its power and might,

steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."

Reading it like this gives it a rhythm that a solid block paragraph of text could never do. You can also do the following:

And finally .........., if you're one of the many people who forget to smile during speeches or presentations, put a smiley face at the top of each page - it will act as a reminder!

 

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