The Key to Giving a Successful Talk

Whether you’ve been asked to deliver a talk, workshop, or other form of public speaking, you obviously want to take time to plan out what you want to say—right? Some will immediately disagree, arguing that your best ideas come “in the moment.” Why bother planning any talking points at all if they probably aren’t going to be the best golden nuggets you want to impact your audience the most?

Having observed and tried both ways, in a variety of settings, one thing has become evident to me: not planning your talking points in advance is the EASIEST way to get off-track, off-topic, and lose your desired objective of reaching and connecting with your audience. Those listening to you, whether they know you already or not, can tell when you are mentally searching for words or ideas, and nothing is worse than a presenter filling dead silence with um’s, uh’s, and other words or phrases that don’t provide depth or meaning to their message.

Write Down Your Key Words and Phrases

Notes may not seem like a big deal, or helpful to some, but they could definitely make or break a powerful session. Having key words and phrases written down are a great tool for launching into a specific topic, continuing your line of thought in a logical way, and avoiding tangents that can derail you and cause you to panic when you realize how far off-topic you have wandered.

Write Your Outline First

Notes for a talk should ideally be the culmination of using a more detailed outline to determine flow and content. Outline your talk, then narrow it down to small bits that you feel confident with to trigger the correct thoughts in your brain. In most cases, this means your notes will be unintelligible to anyone else, so bonus points for writing in code!

Use Technology

Another benefit to having notes is that they can be made and stored several different ways, whether on paper, in a phone or tablet, or within a PowerPoint presentation. Technology is your friend.  You won’t lose your phone or tablet, but you might misplace your papers. 

Be Prepared

Finally, having notes prepared for a talk will give you time to actually prepare—how many times have you “winged it”, then felt 100% after, like you truly nailed the entire thing? Or was the feeling more of “Whew! At least I didn’t say…”? Take the time to put work into your talking points, even if you’ve done a talk 10 times already—the audience is never the same, local and world events are never the same, so your talk should not be the same either. Notes allow you to compare and make tweaks from one talk to another. The act of simply writing down and the reading notes helps increase retention. It allows you to use your visual sense (the strongest) to review your ideas for continuity and relevance.

I hope you were taking notes!

Elizabeth Feller

Elizabeth is a wife and mother who lives in North Texas. When not working in Sundance Square, she can usually be found doing crosswords, taking photos of her toddler, trying new recipes, and making her small difference in the world through friendships and serving others. And drinking lots of coffee.

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