One of the most common questions I get from beginning speakers is, “what should my speaker’s notes look like?” The trouble is, I can’t answer that question. There is no one right way to structure or use speaker’s notes. It’s a matter of finding what works best for you. Each speaker eventually finds her own style, and then, she tends to stick with that method for the long haul.

But “figure it out for yourself” or “do what works best for you” isn’t very helpful advice. So I have compiled the following tips which, along with a little trial and error, can help you develop your own system.

Exchange manuscripts for key words.

If you have all the words in front of you, it’s simply too tempting to read word for word. And when you are reading to your audience, you aren’t connecting with them. If you have parts of your speech that need to be delivered precisely such as mission statements or press releases, do write them down fully, but consider putting them on the screen as well. That way, you aren’t buried in your notes, and your audience gets the full benefit of the text by reading it along with hearing it.

Instead of large sections of text, boil your speaker’s notes down to single words or phrases that serve to trigger your memory of what comes next. On your notes, make these trigger words bigger or bolder or put them in another color. When you have less on your notes, it frees you up to engage more fully with your audience through eye contact. Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. studies body language. In her research, she found that “If a speaker actively seeks out eye contact when talking, he or she is judged to be more believable, confident and competent.” All great reasons to get your eyes off of your notes.

Practice with your notes.

Every time you practice, use your notes. It’s common for speakers to have certain parts of their presentations that don’t flow as smoothly as others. Sometimes you simply get hung up on the same, frustrating spot. When you know what these spots are, you can highlight that tough text or make some marker in your notes to help you find it quickly and move past it. Your notes, like your presentation, should continue to adapt and change. Don’t be afraid to scribble in the margins or cross out parts you don’t like. It’s okay if your notes show your progress.

You might find that you want to clean up your notes and start with a new copy. If you do that, fine. Just make sure you spend plenty of time practicing with the version of your notes from which you’ll be speaking. It’s important that you use repetition to create “muscle memory” of where your eyes need to look for each part. This is the main reason I chose to use hard copy notes instead of electronic notes. When notes are on an iPad or a laptop and you scroll through, the phrase or point you are looking for is always changing locations, making it harder to find. But that’s just my personal preference. There are plenty of talented speakers who prefer electronic notes.

Handle them consistently.

First of all, if your notes are in a stationary and secure format, like a binder, it’s okay to write on both sides of the page. However, if you have free notes, only write on one side of the page, and make sure to number the pages. Here’s the method I like to use. I start with the first two pages side by side on the lectern. When I’m done with page 1, I slide page 2 over to the left, covering up page 1. I now have pages 2 and 3 visible in front of me. I continue this pattern, until I’m done with my presentation. That way, I never have to actually pick a page up or turn one over. And I can always see what is coming up with two pages visible.

If you like to use electronic notes, find a way to bring consistency to the way you access your notes. Maybe you always scroll to a certain point at certain moment in your presentation. If you use notecards, find a way to bring consistency to the way you use them, as well. Some people like to hold them for the entire speech. Others like to set them down for certain parts that are familiar. Just remember, the method in which you handle your notes simply has to work for you and not be distracting for your audience. Let those goals guide you.

Your speaker’s notes are a valuable part of your presentation. If you haven’t given them proper attention in the past, maybe it’s time to revaluate the format you use or the manner in which you use them. We can always improve as speakers. What an exciting reminder!

For more ways to improve your presentation skills, reach out to our team at Ethos3 now.

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