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Friday, August 21, 2009

Note Taking Habit- A Great Help For The Speaker

One of the first problems a speaker faces when he or she starts to prepare his presentation in earnest, is how is he going to record it so that he is reminded as he talks? In other words, what sort of notes is he going to make? Nine times out of ten, this question is never considered. Some sort of notes are produced, usually depending on factors such as what other people have been seen to do, what sort of notes were used at school, and sheer chance. Notes to speak from seem just to happen, without thought, and the speaker muddles through. Poor notes, however, are an added strain when talking, and can cause you to miss sections of the talk, lose the place, and dry up. So it is worth thinking about the best way of taking notes. As with everything to do with speaking, a little thought in advance saves a deal of embarrassment and confusion on the day.

Notes are to help you

The notes you make are the most important insurance policy for the success of the talk. The product of the preparation stages is a set of notes, and they represent the only permanent part of the talk. Speaking is ephemeral, while notes endure. But notes are not the whole talk. You will find, as you talk, that ideas and facts from the work you did in preparation will come back to you, and you may decide, impromptu, to use a piece of information which you did not put in the notes. There is nothing wrong in this: the purpose of a talk is to say what you know about a subject, and notes are for assistance, not to replace knowledge.

The main advantage of good notes is to ensure that you do not forget what you intend to say. A great deal of research has been done on memory (there are many specialist textbooks on memory, for instance), and one of the most consistent results is that stress affects memory. Its usual effect is to make us forget important things, but stress can also cause complete black-outs of memory, as well as causing sudden vivid reminding about things previously buried in the subconscious. The effect of stress is unpredictable: it makes memory irrational and random. And the speaker is under as much stress as most people experience in their day to day lives. It is therefore especially important that he or she takes steps to compensate for the erratic and unreliable performance of the memory under stress.

Some people are unfortunate enough to go completely numb and silent when facing an audience—their memory switches off. The brain processes that operate recall are notoriously out of reach of the will power. We are quite unaware of the process of laying down memories, we feel no pain, no sense of effort, and no sense of choice. We can only predict, in a fairly random way, what we will find memorable, and what we are likely to forget completely. Brain specialists believe that quite large parts of the grey matter are involved in the recording and recall of memories, just as we now know that huge parts of the brain are involved in decoding the information from our retinas, before passing it on to the conscious part of the brain. But we are not aware of the process of stereoscopic vision, just as we have no consciousness of the processes of memory. We often need some object to remind us; notes are a kind of external memory that is under conscious control. Notes jog your memory, and produce what the audience perceives as a fertile flow of ideas and enthusiasm.

Some people, instead of seizing up in front of an audience, become uncontrollably garrulous under strain. They always find plenty to say; the trouble is that it may, or may not, be relevant. Good notes are just as important for this kind of person. The art of good talking is not just to fill the allotted time; it is to use the time wisely to say as much as possible that is useful and necessary. The most useful function of notes is not just to remind you of the material, but to give it structure. They provide a plan or map of the structure of the talk.

Notes are the main way in which the content and structure of the talk can be controlled. Without notes, most talks are formless ramblings. With notes they can be an orderly set of points, with a clear sequence and coherence which the audience can rely on. Notes should not be thought of just as bits of information to fill the time. Notes are like pigeon holes, into which the subject can be fitted. But the notes are not the pigeons. The facts, ideas, information and anecdotes will come from the speaker’s memory; he or she, after all, is the expert on the subject, and the talk will be more interesting if it is spontaneous and anecdotal. The notes provide the structure of categories, the wood round the pigeon holes, to continue the metaphor, which controls and shapes this flow of information, knowledge, and stories. For this reason, notes should have a prominent and logical sequence of headings. Because their main function is structural, they can also contain cues, quotations, jokes, signposts, and stage directions such as when to stand up, sit down, move to the board, and change to a new topic.

Notes, therefore, should not be a version of the full information. The details are much more interesting, and convincing, if they come directly from the speaker’s memory. The speaker should be like someone engaged in earnest, animated conversation, anxious to tell his listeners about all the facts and ideas he has at his finger tips. If the notes are a dense maze of factual material, he will become more like someone saying his lessons. So notes should be the mere prompting, the skeleton, on which the talk can be built. All sorts of information can form these promptings; but they should consist of thoughts, keywords, and headings, not full sentences.