Should Speakers Use Notes?


I was reading recently Leonard Sweet’s book on preaching entitled Giving Blood. He cites something called the Berne Preacher Act of 1667 in which ministers were instructed as follows:

“They must not read the same in front of the congregation from notes or paper, which is a mockery to have to watch and takes away all fruit and grace from the preacher in the eyes of the listeners.”

When I first began learning to speak/preach I was encouraged to use a fairly full script as it would help me know how long I was going to speak for; it would help me not run out of steam; and it would help me with precision of language (so that I didn’t accidentally say anything too stupid in the heat of the moment). I used this way of preaching for maybe my first 6 years. I then was privileged enough to go on a three day intensive that forced me to stop using a script and instead use minimal notes. This was a revolution for me, but one that I’ve stuck with in the last 6-7 years and I’m convinced it’s a much better way to go. The connection with the listeners is vastly improved. The quality of communication is much better. And sometimes those accidental, in the heat of the moment, things are the best things to come out of my mouth (knock me down and call me a chari).

If you’re still using full script I’d strongly encourage you to experiment with weaning yourself away from it. It will feel strange at first, but the experience of truly connecting with listeners will convince you it’s worth it.


2 Replies to “Should Speakers Use Notes?”

  1. I, too, have gone on a similar journey as you, and now work from far more minimal notes. As far as I can judge it people are more engaged now than in the past.
    But a couple of other points which are probably so obvious they don’t need saying.
    I am increasingly convinced that the flow/journey of the message is even more important – awkward transitions and jumps will still be awkward transitions and jumps – even if you do them unscripted!
    And, of course, these techniques are only tools which help us. In preaching, unlike any other form of public monologue, it is the work of God which ultimately makes it effective. Often what I would judge my ‘worst’ talks are the ones most used…

  2. When he was first ordained, my father had four mission parishes that he visited every Sunday. His very first Sunday, he arrived at the second and realized he had left his sermon at the first. He never relied on a written sermon again. If he wants to quote something, he will have that, and he may jot down two or three points he wants to touch on, but that’s it.

    He was ordained in 1961, and is still preaching today.

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