Delivering a Professional Presentation – Should I Use My Notes?

When I give a presentation, should I use my notes?

This is a commonly posed question. Let me start by saying there is nothing wrong with using notes, although if you watch a TED Talks speaker you will notice they present without the use of slides, visual aids or notes. However, not all of us are aiming to be a world class speaker. In my opinion, using notes is far preferable to memorizing your speech. If something unexpected happens and you lose your place, you can find yourself in a ‘panic’ situation where everything you ever knew about your topic flies out of your head. It can also be difficult to come across as authentic if you are repeating the same message, word for word.

If you are going to use notes, there are some things you should think about.

1. Don’t try to hide the fact that you are using notes, but don’t necessarily draw attention to it either. Type in large font. The last thing you want to do is fumble with your glasses, so you can see what your notes say.

2. Keep to one page or one index card so you don’t need to shuffle or rearrange them.

3. Put your notes on a lectern or table. This way you can pause to refer to them without anyone knowing what you are doing.

4. Be comfortable with pausing. You may find yourself distanced from your notes and have to walk over to the lectern.

5. If you don’t have a table or lectern at your disposal, put your paper on a portfolio or heavy notebook and carry that. It is common to feel nervous when talking in front of people and it is common to find yourself shaking. The tiniest movement will be easy to see if you are holding only a piece of paper. This is not the way to instill confidence. The weight of the portfolio will help to keep your notes still.

6. Never speak while you are glancing at your notes, unless you are reading a quote or statistics Notes can limit interaction and eye contact with your audience, so pause when you are looking down and then resume speaking when you can re-establish eye contact.

7. Be wary of using slides as your notes. When you are nervous you may find yourself turning towards your slides and beginning to read them. Slides are meant to support you not the other way around.

The system I follow when creating a presentation is as follows.

1. Write the speech word for word.

I like to read what I’ve written as I go along. What works fine on the printed page for our eyes, doesn’t necessarily sound good to our ears.

2. Rearrange the ideas if they don’t seem to flow, or fail to make logical sense.

3. Highlight key words for idea and story prompts.

4. Create PowerPoint slides if they are needed.

5. Practice, practice, practice.

6. If you choose to use notes create them from the key words you highlighted.

If you decide not to use notes, it is much better to memorize the flow of your presentation, as well as key stories and then talk from the heart choosing your wording and phrasing as you go.

Notes can be an important safety net. Taking a moment to collect your thoughts, sip some water and glance at your notes won’t take anything away from your presentation, or your credibility as a speaker.

Should you use notes? The decision is yours. But if you do, use them wisely.