If you are a serious speaker who addresses your department staff or your sales force on a regular basis you want to keep track of what you say so you don’t repeat yourself. Nothing is more embarrassing than telling a story that you told this audience six months—or six days!—ago.
My wife once went to a school in-service day, excited to hear last year’s speaker who had been so stimulating. She even took her previous notes to add to them. What a surprise when she heard exactly the same speech! She could see from her previous notes what story would come next. She was disillusioned as well as disappointed.
This was a constant challenge for me when I taught university students for many years and faced the same class 30 times a semester. To complicate this further, I often taught two sections of the same course. I had to remember which section I’d told a story to; conversely, I had to be aware of what I said in one class and make sure I said it in the other section. In addition, I preach each Sunday and have prepared and delivered over 3,000 sermons—most of those at the same church over the past 35 years. Although our church is a fairly transient group, some in my audience have been there every week for all those years.
At times I repeat the same material and don’t realize it. It is awkward for me when an audience member will come up to me after a lecture or sermon and tell that he or she heard me give that example before. But most of the time I avoid doing that and here is why.
The same day that I speak, or immediately after my classes, I go to my office and type a summary of what I covered in that class. I include any unusual questions or discussion. For many years I had a list of illustrations to accompany each lecture and I would check them off after I had used them.
With sermons, I have a hard copy of my notes that I file under the topic I discussed. For example, I have a file labeled “faith.” Any time I plan to preach on faith, I check the file to see how long ago I spoke on the topic. Since I have thorough notes on each lesson, I can generally recall content so that I don’t repeat myself.
In addition, I keep careful records of sermon title, date preached, and where I preached it. Thus I can look through that file and determine how long ago I spoke on that topic.
A significant factor that helps me avoid repeating material to the same audience is that I work hard to find new material to augment my content. I read both fiction and nonfiction. I find excellent human-interest stories in reading biographies as well as key current event articles I find online.
If you never speak to the same audience twice, then the above will probably not be useful. But if you have the same people in the audience time after time, these suggestions will help you approach the lectern with confidence that what you are about to say is new material to that audience.