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This article contains best practice tips and answers to the most common questions related to using notes when presenting
Using notes within a presentation is a topic that regularly gets asked about during my presentation skills training sessions. (Both novice and experienced speakers have LOTS of questions about when and how to use notes during a presentation!).
To help you use and format your presentation notes in the most useful way, I have collated some of the most common questions (and answers) that I get asked relating to using notes during a presentation or speech.
I hope that you find these best practice tips for using notes when presenting useful, and please keep checking back, as I will add to this article as more questions come up.
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Key questions related to using notes when presenting (click each question to jump to it).
Should I use notes when presenting?
One of the most common questions asked by speakers that are keen to grow and develop is: “Should I use notes when presenting?”.
Notes should always be used if they increase your ability to deliver your message clearly, confidently and concisely.
Why? Remember your public speaking goals.
For a successful speaker, the goal is always to impart their message in a clear, concise and confident manner. If you do not achieve this, then your message is unlikely to be heard, and your audience will not be able to act upon it.
Think of all of the presentations or speeches that you have attended in your life. It is highly unlikely that you wanted the speaker to become confused, forget their words and not be able to deliver their message. That would have been a waste of time for you and them, and likely have made you both feel incredibly uncomfortable.
Your audience wants you to succeed. They want to hear your message.
If you need to have notes to successfully deliver your message or presentation, then go for it.
What are the benefits of using notes in a presentation?
Using notes for your next presentation guarantees that you will be able to recall and deliver your message clearly, confidently and concisely as you will always have something available to refer to, if you get stuck or forget your words.
Your audience wants you to succeed and deliver your message. They would therefore prefer that you have notes and are able to deliver your message, than not have notes and not be able to complete the presentation.
You should always have notes to support you as a speaker, if you feel you need them.
Do I have to hold my presentation notes in my hands?
If you feel confident that you won’t need to consult your notes every few seconds, then you may benefit from having your notes nearby (for if you need them), but not permanently in your hands.
For example, you may wish to have a copy of your notes stored in your jacket or trouser pocket, or on a table nearby. Then, if you need them, they can be easily consulted. However, if you do not need to consult these ‘hidden’ notes, then the audience will never know that they existed, and you will appear as a super confident speaker, with your whole speech or presentation memorised!
Think of this set of hidden notes as a safety net - there if you need them, but hopefully you won’t!
How do I make cue cards for my next presentation?
Remember that your cue cards or presentation notes are a visual element of your presentation. Their appearance to the audience can impact your success as a speaker.
Our audience makes conscious and unconscious judgements about our abilities as a speaker, based on our visual appearance. How would you feel about someone wearing mechanics’ overalls undertaking open heart surgery on you? Similarly, how would you feel about a person in a formal suit and tie completing structural works on your home?
Your notes should reflect positively on you as a speaker.
Best practice tips for cue cards for a presentation include:
Ensure that your notes are printed or written on good quality card.
The reverse of the card (facing the audience) should be blank...
Keep your cards small (A5 size is ideal)...
Keep the number of note cards that you have to a minimum.
How should I format my presentation notes?
- The best format for presentation notes is a set of short prompts that trigger your brain to recall the sentences and messages that you want to impart. Ideally they should be a list of words that will aid your recall. Your rehearsals will ensure that your brain recognises the words on your note cards, and can then recall the rest of the sentence, paragraph or message that you want to present.
- Avoid writing out long sentences or every word of your presentation. This will increase the chances of you simply reading your presentation off of your notes. If you do this, you are unlikely to build rapport or engagement with your audience as you will not be able to make eye contact with them as you present.
- Your prompts within your presentation notes should always be clearly written and well-spaced. Check that you can read them from a distance, without squinting or straining, to avoid any confusion or distraction when you are presenting on the day.
Should I have my presentation notes on my phone?
It is becoming increasingly common for presenters to refer to notes that they have written on their phone, whilst they present.
Opinion is split on doing this. Some people believe that it appears lazy and informal, whilst others recognise it as an efficient and useful way to successfully present.
For now, as a speaker you will need to make an informed decision about the opinions of your audience before using notes from a phone or iPad. If you are in any doubt, avoid using a phone or tablet for notes, as you do not want it to frustrate your audience or distract from your message.
Generally, for more formal events it is recognised that using printed, well-formatted notes is preferable. For shorter, more informal gatherings, reading notes from a phone or tablet is viewed as more acceptable.
This will likely change further over time.
How should I use notes when presenting online?
Presenting online is becoming increasingly common, but the challenge of remembering your key messages and using notes remains.
Many online presentation platforms, such as Zoom and Google Meets, allow you to have notes open on a separate screen or monitor, that is not shared with the audience online. However, many of us do not have multiple monitors or screens available to us, and if we do, breaking eye contact and regularly turning our head to the side to consult notes is certainly not viewed as presentation best practice.
The best way to format your notes when presenting online is to have a digital note positioned on your screen just below your camera. If you cannot have a digital note because you are sharing your screen with your audience, then place a handwritten or printed note just above and behind your camera. This can be consulted without seeming to break eye contact with your online audience.
What is the most important thing to remember when using notes in a presentation?
The most important thing to remember about using notes in a presentation is that using notes is a must, if you feel that they will improve or guarantee your ability to deliver your message clearly, confidently and concisely.
Your audience will thank you for it - they want to hear your message.
For more best practice tips and advice, please consult our public speaking blog here.
If you have a question about any area of public speaking that you would like answered, please contact us here.