Effective use of Notes

Last Monday I discussed delivering a speech without notes. But what if going note-less isn’t an option? There are plenty of alternatives available, some better than others.

1. Write your notes as bullet points on your slides

No. Just no.

2. Paper

Sheets of A4 have enough space for your entire speech. The ability to read your speech is useful if you are delivering poetry or a speech that requires very precise language. And a hard copy stashed in your back-pocket is an excellent safety net if your mind goes blank.

You ave to be careful using paper notes. Loose leaf paper has a tendency to become tatty, especially after several uses. If you are using several sheets they may get shuffled out of order, either by mistake or by the ventilation in the room. Holding paper will restrict gestures and eye contact and nervous shaking may be exaggerated. You could consider backing your paper with card to prevent it flapping around. Alternatively, use a lectern or a table, which will also free up your hands.

The biggest problem with using paper notes is the temptation to include too much text forcing the speaker to look down. If you spend all your time reading you are neglecting your audience.

3. Index Cards

Writing your key points on one or more index cards allows you to subtly refer to notes. Index card are small and and will not restrict you in the way several sheets of A4 would. But do consider numbering them or binding them together to avoid getting them mixed up.

4. On your iPhone

As most mobile phones include large, high quality displays they appear ideal for keeping notes. iPhones are very compact and can contain very large amounts of text. Unfortunately the temptation to write too much, a difficulty to read it from arms length, and the additional complication of using a touch screen might distract you from your speech. Although there’s probably an app for that.

5. Back of the Hand

Stand-up comedians will often write notes on the back of their hands. The notes are practically invisible¬†in dimly lit comedy clubs, giving the impression of recalling everything from memory. The back of the hand is small so you can only include very brief notes, meaning you won’t spend too long looking at them. Unfortunately the obvious drawback are they could rub off, smudge your clothes or stick around on your hand for days afterwards.

6. Teleprompter

Chances are you’ll only be using one of these if you are speaking at an ultra-high budget conference or political rally. Teleprompters display text on one or more transparent pieces of glass, allowing the speaker read their speech while appearing to be looking at the audience. They are not without fault. President Obama has been criticised for relying too much on teleprompters, and look what can go wrong.

Can you think of any other methods of using notes during a speech? Submit your ideas as comments!

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