Have you ever noticed how some speakers effortlessly preach without notes? And wondered if that could be you up there someday, speaking freely and with confidence?
While public speaking is more natural for some people than others, it’s a skill that can be practiced and improved. You can learn to preach without notes effectively with the proper tips and techniques, and we’ll cover how to do that in this blog. Read on to see how preaching without notes could benefit you. Then, learn seven keys to help you prepare.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Table of contents
- Should You Preach Without Notes?
- The Greatest Misconceptions About Preaching Without Notes
- 7 Best Practices to Preach Without Notes
- How Can You Start Preaching Without Notes?
Should You Preach Without Notes?
Do you get sweaty palms when someone puts you on the spot to get up and share a word, teach, or pray? The more you practice speaking without notes, the easier it will be to deliver an impromptu speech when the need arises. In addition, you can make the switch to preaching without notes for all your weekend services.
How Do You Currently Preach?
Pastors typically use one of these methods when delivering their message:
- Reading a full manuscript
- Speaking from an outline
- Speaking without notes
All these methods have certain things in common. For one, preparation is critical. You may write out an entire script word for word, even if you’re preaching without notes –– you just won’t bring it on the stage with you.
In addition, the Holy Spirit inspires powerful and impactful communication. So it’s vital to rely on God and be open to His leading in every phase: preparation, practice, and delivery.
Manuscripts do have advantages. When you use a manuscript, you can craft your language carefully and ensure you don’t miss a key point or misquote a scripture. However, there are advantages to not having a manuscript in front of you.
Why Preach Without Notes?
Making the shift to preach without notes can be a game-changer. Unchurched audiences (and many people who have been in church their entire lives) prefer a conversational tone over being “preached at.” Leaving your notes behind can provide the following benefits.
- Constant eye contact: You’re looking up the entire time instead of reading.
- More movement: Notes tether you to the podium; without them, you’re free to move around the stage and interact with different sections of the room.
- Ability to read the room: Do people seem confused? Are they tuned out? As you observe the room, you can adapt and adjust your delivery to wake people up or get them engaged.
- Better audience connection: Speaking without notes helps close the gap from the pulpit to the seats, creating a more intimate connection.
- Authenticity and originality: Speaking directly to people can feel more authentic. Reading from a script, on the other hand, may cause people to question where you got your material.
- Simplify your message: You won’t remember complicated outlines with multiple subpoints unless you have a genius-level memory. Preaching without notes forces you to hone in on a main idea, which can help the audience retain your message better.
- Divine Inspiration. When you step out and rely even more significantly on the Holy Spirit, you could find yourself with fresh inspiration––and have the freedom to flow with it even if you leave the original script.
One final very important point: preaching without notes is more important than ever with the rise of online church. Speaking naturally through a screen is challenging, so being able to look directly into the camera without breaking eye contact is vital. You may be tempted to read notes off a teleprompter, but people can usually tell when you’re doing this. Preaching without notes inarguably provides the best connection.
The Greatest Misconceptions About Preaching Without Notes
Before we cover the keys that will empower you to leave your notes at home, we must clear up the greatest misconception about what it means to preach without notes . . .
Preaching without notes does not mean you’re “winging it.”
In fact, you may need to devote even more time to prepare when you preach without notes, especially initially. Although you should be spirit-led whenever and however you preach, you still need to do your due diligence in preparation.
The other misconception, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum, is that you have to memorize your entire message. Rather than quote word-for-word, let the message flow naturally. Although it may put you at ease to memorize certain parts of your message, it’s not required.
Next, let’s look at some practical tips. You’ll see that most of these have to do with preparation. The actual preaching is simply the tip of the iceberg, and it sits on a mountain of preparation and practice.
7 Best Practices to Preach Without Notes
1. Focus on the Connection
The primary reason to preach without notes is to build a better connection with your audience. When it feels overwhelming to go without notes, remember that you’re not doing this for yourself but for the people you’re speaking to.
As you craft your message, picture the people in the audience and consider what they need out of the weekend message. Hint: it’s not a perfect speaking performance from you! They need biblical truth, encouragement, and, most of all, the presence of the Lord.
At the end of the day, this isn’t about remembering every point or having flawless transitions; it’s about honoring the Lord and serving people as you help them connect to God’s Word and apply it to their lives.
2. Put Time into Preparation
A strong message is built on a foundation of solid preparation. Thorough preparation doesn’t box you in; it allows for greater spontaneity. Being well-prepared also helps you avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety when it’s time to preach without notes.
Your message prep must include the basics, of course: prayer and time studying God’s Word.
Preparation also includes gathering scriptures, stories and anecdotes, quotations, historical facts, and other material you will use in your message. You can also find tons of helpful sermon preparation tools online for free.
Preparation also applies to your routine on the day you preach. Spend time in prayer, and prepare your heart and spirit before the service begins. Limit distractions so you can focus and be in the right mind frame.
3. Organize an Outline
What is the main point of your sermon? How will you get that message across? Organizing your thoughts on paper is necessary, but you don’t have to write a complete manuscript. A clear structure and outline will do to help you stay on track.
Take a few minutes to think about your favorite preachers: is there a consistent outline or format they use when preaching?
It helps to find a consistent structure that works for you and stick with that weekly. This helps you find a rhythm so your messages will flow more naturally.
Three popular formats for structuring a message:
- One Big Idea Framework
- Expository; Verse-by-verse, thematic, narrative, topical
- Me – You – God – You – We Strategy
It’s common practice to choose three to five main points (five being the max). If you get long-winded and complicated, people will become bored or distracted. But if you preach too short and oversimplified, they won’t gain anything from the message. A clear structure ensures your audience can follow you and retain key takeaways.
4. Review and Practice
Practice, practice, preach and practice. Repetition builds confidence and helps you work out the kinks.
An excellent way to practice is to preach the sermon out loud in your car or in front of the bathroom mirror (where no one can hear you). Not only will this help you get comfortable with your material as you practice, but you’ll also have insight into your facial expressions and non-verbal communication.
You may also want to practice in front of a friend or family member. This way, you can get feedback and make sure your points are coming across clearly. Another excellent option is to record yourself on video.
Finally, practice with a timer. You can see whether you’re spending too much time on specific points and running out of room to land your message with a solid ending.
5. Develop a Strong Start and Finish
The start and end of your sermon, the “bookends,” if you will, are critical. First impressions are a big deal, and when you start talking, you need to hook people so they will stay engaged. If you’re going to put time into memorization, the beginning and end are the key sections to invest time in.
A solid ending to your message is vital. Rather than trail off, know exactly how you plan to finish. End with a powerful story or takeaway that will stick with your audience throughout the week.
One additional note: don’t forget about transitions. When preparing a message, your primary focus is on the overarching message and key takeaways (and rightfully so). But when it comes time to preach without notes, the delivery can be awkward if you haven’t worked through your transitions. Plan how you will move from one idea to the next, especially if your style is more freeform and you don’t have numbered points.
6. Take Your Mistakes in Stride
What happens when you slip up during public speaking? First, don’t panic. It’s okay to make mistakes; everyone does. Just take a deep breath and continue forward. You can pick up where you left off or pull in a new thought to transition, whichever makes more sense at the moment.
If you stumble over your words or forget what you were going to say in an obvious way, just acknowledge it. Own up to the mistake, laugh it off, and move on. In most cases, slip-ups aren’t obvious and there’s no need to draw attention, apologize, or overexplain. Doing so just wastes time and distracts everyone.
Lastly, remember that no one is perfect. Your listeners are probably more understanding than you think!
7. Trust the Lord (and Yourself)
Your mindset is ultimately the biggest challenge when it comes to preaching without notes. You have to shut down your fears and insecurities. Instead of worrying and overplanning, leave ample room for God to step in and move.
You already know that trusting God is foundational for preaching. Unfortunately, sometimes we forget and put unnecessary burdens on ourselves. Maybe you compare yourself to the mature preacher you most admire (who has decades of experience). Or, you’re measuring yourself against the popular up-and-coming social media star (15-second soundbites don’t give the entire story).
But you have to believe in yourself. If God has called you to ministry and put you in a position to preach, He wants YOU, with all your idiosyncrasies and quirks. Embrace your unique style and don’t compare yourself to others. At the end of the day, it’s not about you delivering a powerful message; it’s about God delivering a powerful message through you.
The apostle Paul said it best, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Cor 2:4-5)
How Can You Start Preaching Without Notes?
All these points may sound fantastic, but what if making the transition to preach without notes still feels like an overwhelming leap? Here are some baby steps to become more comfortable preaching without notes:
- Practice on a weekly basis so when it’s time to preach, you’ll feel confident.
- Start small—perhaps telling sharing your testimony or giving a short message without notes.
- Move from a manuscript to an outline, or from a detailed outline to a general outline.
- Start preaching without notes for one of your main points; gradually increase the amount of content you present without looking at paper.
- Finally, develop a message structure and organizational flow that works for you and stick with it every time to get in a rhythm.
In summary, remember that you are aiming for a pure-hearted connection with people, not delivering a perfect performance. With time, learning to preach without notes will help you communicate with greater freedom.