When delivering a speech or presentation, it is preferable for a speaker to do so without notes whenever possible. Being free from notes allows a speaker to have maximum eye contact with the audience; it frees the speaker from being anchored to a lectern and allows him to use the full speaking area; and it conveys to the audience that the speaker is comfortable with the subject.
However, depending on the length of the presentation, its complexity and the amount of time available to prepare, speaking without notes is not always possible. In those cases where you have to use notes, here are some ideas for using them effectively:
- Try to keep the notes to a minimum. Having your speech written word for word will tie you to it. You will be reading out loud and not speaking. If you look up from the notes for even a brief period of time, it could be difficult to find your place when you go back to them.
- Do not write your notes in paragraph form. This makes it easier to get lost. Better to write them out in point form with only one or two lines per point.
- Enlarge the font. Many people have their notes written in size 12 or even 10 font, the same that they use for printed documents. Unless you have extremely good eyesight, small fonts will be difficult to read without squinting at your notes or picking them up or bending over the lectern to get a closer look. Your notes are for you alone, so increase the font to a decent size such as 18 or 20 so that your words can be easily seen.
- Organize your notes. Having a mess of papers makes it too easy to get lost. If you have notes on standard letter-size paper, put them in a binder. Make sure beforehand that you can turn the pages easily. If necessary, add tabs or “dog ear” the corners of the pages.
- Many people suggest using small speaking cards with key points that can be easily held in one’s hand. The advantage of such cards is that they will allow you to move about on the stage. The disadvantage is that they limit your ability to gesture with the hand holding the cards and they can be distracting to some in the audience. And you do not want to drop them! Practising your speech with the note cards beforehand will help things go more smoothly.
- If you have a PowerPoint presentation, you can use the slides to keep on track. One thing to avoid, is reading the slides with your back to the audience. When going to a new slide, you should pause, turn to the slide and quickly collect your thoughts, turn back to your audience and then speak.
- If you do use a lectern, it would be great if you can get out from behind it from time to time during your speech, provided that the venue is suitable for doing so. A good example of when to do is when recounting a personal story that helps drive home your message. You most likely do not need notes then as you have lived the story. Step out from behind the lectern, even if it is only a short distance, and tell the story. Then, as you are approaching its conclusion, return to the lectern, check your notes and move on to the next point.