Use Notes Effectively

Everyone admires a person who can speak effectively without using notes. Unfortunately, not many of us can attain this pinnacle of speaking achievement!

Sometimes a person who has no notes will struggle to be effective.

The audience is aware, because of the demeanour being exhibited, that the speaker is using most of the energy being generated in remembering specific words or phrases. This energy should be used to enhance how the words and phrases are being delivered.

Notes are seen by some as a crutch to be leant on. I believe appropriate notes used properly can enhance a speech. They can ensure the speaker does not end up in the embarrassing situation of forgetting what is to be said, or of leaving out large chunks of a speech which can drastically alter its meaning or make it unintelligible.

Here are some tips to remember when using notes

  • Keep your notes small, preferably in card form. Maximum size should be that of a small envelope, about half that size would be ideal.
  • Hold your notes in one hand at between waist and shoulder level where they can be easily moved to a comfortable reading distance and referred to without looking down. This will ensure audience contact and speaking volume are not lost.
  • Holding your notes in one hand leaves the other one free for gesture. Provided the notes are small enough to be unobtrusive the hand holding the notes can be used as well when the passage being delivered is well-known.
  • Make sure you number the pages of your notes “just in case”, making sure they are in order just before you speak.
  • If your notes are too large they may flap if you are nervous.
  • Practise using your notes in front of a mirror to see that you are not too tied to them. You will also be able to judge if you are losing audience contact when you refer to them.
  • Your first draft set of notes can be virtually a full script. The next draft can be reduced to “key sentences” and finally just to “headings” or “central ideas” on suitable cards.
  • Don’t be ashamed of your notes. Don’t hold them in the “fig-leaf’or “Royal” position.
  • If you have copious notes, and are endeavouring not to refer to them too often, you may find that you are suddenly a few cards behind, with alarming consequences.
  • Notes are easier to read if they are printed or typed in large print. If your notes are printed remember not to use all capitals. A mix of upper and lower case letters is easier to read.
  • Use highlighters, bold type or underlining or a combination of these to signify emphasis, pace, volume or any other speaking variation you may have in your repertoire. Develop your own system and stick to it.

Don’t forget

  • Your notes must not detract from your presentation
  • They must not interfere with audience contact
  • When rehearsing always use the notes you intend using at your presentation

Reproduced from the Rostrum publication “Tips on Public Speaking and Meeting Procedures. Vol. 1” -a collection of 30 handouts by Ron Johnson.

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