As a Presenter, Should You Use Notes?

Jun 4, 2015 by Reen

There is no getting around the fact that professional speakers tend to keep their speeches in their heads rather than using notes, but that doesn’t mean notes should be avoided at all costs. It is much better to use notes than to memorize your presentation word for word and sound robotic or lose your train of thought and suddenly find yourself in a ‘panic’ situation.

Not everyone who gives a presentation is a professional, or wants to be a professional. That doesn’t mean you need to look like an amateur and undermine your credibility. If talking without notes is not an option, here are some suggestions to ensure you still look professional.

  1. Don’t try to hide the fact that you are using notes, but don’t necessarily draw attention to it either. If necessary type in a large font so you can see what your notes say without needing to put your glasses on.
  2. Keep your notes to one page or index card so you don’t need to shuffle or rearrange them. I’ve seen more than one presenter find themselves with out-of-order pages.
  3. Put your notes on a lectern or table. If you don’t have one and your notes are printed on paper, put them on a portfolio or heavy notebook and carry that. The tiniest movement is easy to see if you are holding only a piece of paper, so if you are nervous and your hand trembles slightly, your audience will pick up on it.
  4. Be comfortable with pausing. 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.
  5. Be wary of using slides as your notes. When you are nervous you may find yourself turning towards the screen and reading them. Slides are meant to support you not the other way around, not to mention the importance of maintaining eye contact with your audience. That won’t happen if you are looking at your slides and they are looking at your back.

Notes can be an important safety net. Just knowing they are there can relieve your stress immensely. 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, but don’t let notes take the place of practice. The best advice I was ever given about speaking in front of people was to practice, practice, practice!

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