Weaning Off Obama’s Crutch

Posted on: 03/6/09 11:42 AM | by Jonathan McKee

I’ve always have thought President Obama was a great speaker. I can’t even imagine having to do that many speeches… being careful of EVERY single word (knowing that one wrong nuance or inference could be front page headlines)… what a tough job. But I found it interesting to find out that Obama doesn’t go anywhere without his teleprompter.

Anyone who’s heard me speak or train knows that I’m a big advocate for “no notes.” If you see me on stage, I only have a pocket Bible. No notes. My dad always did the same. At my Using 10-Minute Talks seminar last year at the YS National Youth Worker Conferences, I instructed youth workers to use shorter, story-driven talks… with no notes!

I guess Obama is trying to wean himself of his “notes” too. Yahoo news reports:

Obama’s reliance on the teleprompter is unusual — not only because he is famous for his oratory, but because no other president has used one so consistently and at so many events, large and small.

After the teleprompter malfunctioned a few times last summer and Obama delivered some less-than-soaring speeches, reports surfaced that he was training to wean himself off of the device while on vacation in Hawaii. But no such luck.

People often react when I say “no notes.” But think about it. We want kids to remember what we say… don’t we? How can we expect them to remember the gist of what we said, if we can’t even remember “the gist.” And that’s all I expect speakers to memorize: the gist.

When I say “no notes,” I don’t mean “memorized.” My outline is memorized. My intro, transitions and closing are memorized. But my wording is extemporaneous. Think about it. If you hear a good joke and then repeat it at work the next day. Did you memorize it? No. But, unless you’re my wife Lori (she can’t tell a joke to save her life), you remember the details and basically tell the joke in your own wording.

Many stand up comedians will do this. You’ll see comics reviewing a list before they go on stage. If you watch me before a talk, I have a list, much like a stand up comedian’s list.

Last Sunday morning I spoke… here was my list:

What were you thinking?
as a kid…
faulty decision making
How can I change?
the secret, in 8 small verses
Ephesians 4: 17-24
God Wants to Change the way you THINK
Confessions about food
Kings Game
God wants to change the way you THINK
What are you putting in your head? Surrounding yourself?
Next verses
Get rid of fat clothes

Yes… I just typed that out without looking at any notes. Why? I have that list memorized. That list means nothing to you. But it means everything to me.

I never use the list on stage. It’s always in my back pocket, but I have never used it.

A list like that isn’t as hard as it looks. Those aren’t random words. Each story and idea flows from the last and to the next. It’s an easy memorize.

Wow… this is becoming a long blog.

I’ll be teaching this again at the YS Conventions this year… maybe you’ll just have to come check it out. 🙂

(ht to David for the article)

5 Replies to “Weaning Off Obama’s Crutch”

  1. I agree 100%! If I want to create a memorable talk and I have to read it off my notes, it must not be too memorable. I have the same kind of note system that I’ve been using for the last 4 years now. Most of what I teach just comes out of the heart, and it seems that people really connect with that. I keep the list with me (usually on a post it note in my pocket bible), to reference if I need to. How do you keep track of time? Do you type out notes for your audience sometimes?

  2. Thanks for your comments Jake.

    As for your questions:

    1. Keeping track of time. I actually manuscript my talks before I present them. I say them outloud practicing… so I have a pretty good sense of how long they take. I also watch a clock.

    2. I rarely have the audience fill out notes. My talks are usually just one point, and one passage. When I train it’s a totally different story. Then I have detailed outlines.

  3. I agree with you completely, and I try to go no notes as much as I can.

    But I think there are many people out there who work great with kids, and have a calling to youth ministry, but are not blessed with the oratory skills, etc… to always pull this off. Whether its nerves, struggling with memory, etc.., some people need their notes at times, and I think that can be ok, if not ideal. The ability to speak effectively, to memorize notes and ‘how to tell a story’, and such are definitely gifts, just like musical talent, and not necessarily gifts that everyone has. I can’t play an instrument or carry a tune, but I can orate.

  4. you are so effective, that i just read that list to my kids this morning and 2 were saved and one answered the call to missions. jk. man this kind of stuff is helpful. keep it coming.

  5. Ed… I agree with you that the above “list” and talk might be a little difficult for some to memorize. That was a pretty complex talk. Not for someone “not blessed with oratory skills” … as you put it.

    But I think someone lacking in those skills shouldn’t be tackling complex talks. They should stick to simple, clear, memorable talks like the ones in my 10-Minute Talks book. Those talks are almost as simple as repeating a joke. And the list for those talks would be only three or four words long. The talks all consist of the story, the transition, the scripture and a wrap up. Simple, clear, but powerful. Just like Jesus’ parables: simple, clear and powerful.

    Just my two cents.

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