Toss Your Note Cards!
Everyone can benefit from a lesson in public speaking, but this skill is especially useful for business leaders and those who are frequently called before an audience. In this excerpt from one of Dave's favorite business books, Thou Shall Prosper, Rabbi Daniel Lapin shares important lessons learned from his first public speaking engagement.
"I was 14 years old when I received my first speaking engagement. A visiting group of minor dignitaries was attending a banquet at the synagogue my father served as rabbi. The powers that be had decided that there would be a seven-minute presentation by a representative of the synagogue youth, and because nobody else wanted to do it, the task fell to me. Make no mistake, I didn’t want to do it, but Dad, who was a master orator, was impatient to launch my public speaking career and insisted that I prepare a speech.
"On the way to the event several days later, he asked me if I had carefully prepared my remarks. Because I had watched him prepare hundreds of speeches over the years, I assured him that I had done so. He then asked me if I had written out the speech word for word. Again I assured him that I had done so. He asked me if I had brought my notes along with me. Assuming he wanted reassurance that I was not going to embarrass him, I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out the sheaf of papers on which I had carefully constructed my speech. He reached over and took the papers from me. Then, with a sense of horror that I can recall today with all the emotional intensity of the moment, I watched him rip my notes into shreds and toss them from the car window. I will confess that protesting his littering was the furthest thing from my numbed mind reeling in anticipation of my impending mortification.
"He slowly began talking to me. What he said was that I wouldn’t understand this action for many years; but that in the meantime, he wanted me to believe that he acted in my best interests until the day it finally would become clear to me. He then pulled over the car and asked me to say my speech to him. At first I petulantly refused, saying there was no point because I had no intention of giving the speech anyway. But finally, I relented and tried to recall my speech word for word. It was horrendous.
"Dad then laboriously began helping me to reformulate my speech in terms of its three classical components: (1) the introduction, (2) the body, and (3) the conclusion. He divided each component into three subsections and then helped me decide on the one key word by which I could remember the contents of each of my nine subsections. Finally, he helped me recall and memorize three key phrases until they could roll off my tongue with fluency. It was then I noticed that we were still in plenty of time for the banquet, and I suspected that we had departed from home so early because Dad had foreseen the entire scenario that had just unfolded.
"He then told me that I was going to speak to the synagogue group with no notes in my hand or on the podium and that it was going to be a far more successful speech than the one I had originally anticipated delivering, or, to be more honest, reading. Nobody needs to come to an event to hear the keynote speaker read his speech. Everyone subconsciously realizes that it would have been far more economical had the sponsoring organization merely replicated the written speech and distributed it to attendees by mail. No, when one listens to a well-crafted and well-delivered speech, no matter how short it may be, one comes away with a sense of having been granted a glimpse into the speaker’s soul. Furthermore, the speech reaches more deeply and more directly into the listener’s soul than had he or she merely read the speech in printed form.
"Abandoning my notes, knowing my subject matter, and being familiar with what I was going to describe next allowed me the luxury of eye contact with my audience. I could focus on gesture and modulation. Dad was right; my little maiden speech did receive more enthusiastic acclaim than a 14-year-old incipient delinquent was entitled to, only because of Dad’s intervention. On the drive home, I churlishly failed to thank him for tearing up my notes, but I have done so a thousand times since. And I have almost never spoken from notes since that day.
"I tell you all that only to be able to tell you this: Believe me when I say that I know just how hard it is to hurl the crutches into the fireplace and deliver that speech with free hands. That is what notes are to a speech—merely crutches. You do not need them. What is more, once you have given your first speech entirely without notes before you, you will never go back to notes. You will enjoy the experience more than you ever did while speaking from written notes. You will be far more effective, and your words will be more memorable. I will allow that if your work ever requires you to speak about many specific details and figures beyond your capacity to memorize reliably, use a TelePrompTer, if available. This device is virtually invisible in a large hall, and it allows you to look up at the audience rather than crouching over your notes. Still, try to avoid depending on the TelePrompTer. I could hardly provide you with more powerful and useful advice than to encourage you to accustom yourself to public speaking sans notes. It really is easier than you suspect; however, you do need a ready vocabulary and an ease of public communication. It is hard to think of any effective leader, whether political, military, or business, who has not been an effective orator."
Excerpted from Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money 2nd edition by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Copyright (2010) by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Published by John Wiley & Sons. Used with permission.
Get your copy of Thou Shall Prosper to find out what Rabbi Lapin suggests to increase your vocabulary and improve your public-speaking skills.