Speakers look at paper. Communicators look at people. The more you can preach without notes the more you enhance your communication with the people. You maintain your eye contact with the people as they maintain their eye contact with you.
Preaching without notes can be incredibly intimidating, but I’ve found three things helpful.
First, organize your message well. My mentor Dr. Haddon Robinson once said, “A good message remembers itself.” In other words, the more simply and clearly you have your message organized, the easier it is to remember. I organize my messages around a central idea, one particular truth that ties the Scripture’s passage together. Everything I say points back to that central idea. A message that doesn’t “flow” is more difficult to give without notes because it is more difficult to remember. Keep in mind that you are not trying to say everything a particular passage of Scripture says. You are teaching what is essential to that one idea.
Second, write out your message like a manuscript—word-for-word the way you plan to say it. Prior to speaking, I read my manuscript a minimum of 10 times. By that time, I have it so well in my mind I have no need to look at the manuscript. Those ten times are not ten times in one day, but one time a day for ten days. Please know that I definitely don’t have the manuscript memorized. I could not quote it if my life depended on it. By reading the manuscript over 10 times, though, I have the message so well in my mind that I can communicate my points well. The message is mastered, not memorized.
Lastly, don’t sweat the small stuff. As you write your message, you think of effective ways to say a particular sentence with phraseology that could be helpful for your audience to grasp your point. You work on that phraseology, analogies, and examples throughout your entire message. Since you’ve read it over a minimum of 10 times prior to speaking, you’re likely to remember almost all of those. It’s also extremely possible that you could forget a few thoughts you prepared. Don’t worry over it. Enhancing the communication—looking at people, not paper—is far more important than anything you neglected to say.
I want to be honest and share with you that I do sometimes speak with notes. When I do, it is a half-size piece of paper with two columns of words and about a dozen words in each column. Those words would make no sense to you. They would not even qualify as actual notes. They are simply words that capture an entire paragraph in order to bring the message back to my mind. The audience doesn’t even realize that I have any words in front of me. Needing even these notes, though, is—as it should be—rare.
Preach without notes and your preaching begins to move from speaking to communicating.