The myth of notes

There’s a massive myth about using notes when giving a presentation or speech:

“Using notes is bad…”

Whoever once whispered this in your ear is wrong.

There’s no shame in using notes when presenting, many of the greatest speakers in history have done so. What do you think politicians have on the lectern in front of them? Yep, notes!

Which would your audience prefer;

You don’t use notes, your presentation is a car crash, and they are not informed or entertained at all, in fact their time is wasted?


You use notes sparingly, and give a structured, coherent and effective presentation that informs and inspires them?

Of course, it’s the latter. In this article we’re going to bust the notes myth and look at how you can create a set of speech notes that work for you and use them effectively when you are up and speaking.

How to create great notes

The best type of notes are short, concise and simply prompts to your excited mind when you are standing up on stage and speaking.

However, your notes should always start as a full script (or at least as full as possible).

Writing out what you are going to say in full gives your mind time to take in an agreed framework and language. Once you’ve read through your full script a couple of times, you’ll quickly find that as you begin to rehearse, you are using the phrases contained within the script without even thinking about it!

Once you are familiar with the script, start breaking it down into shorter sentences written on prompt cards that act as reminders for what was previously a whole paragraph of text.

Keep repeating this process as you rehearse until finally you are down to just a list of single words that remind you of the key areas to cover in your speech.

You now have your notes for your final speech – a simple list of words* that trigger fireworks in your brain when you see them and help you to remember your full script!

*If you are a visual learner or suffer from difficulties reading when under pressure, try substituting the single words for symbols or images. The symbols and pictures will trigger your memory in the same way as the list of words.

How to use your notes when speaking

There’s a few golden rules for using notes when speaking. They may seem obvious, but you would be amazed at how often people break them!

1. Always ensure that your notes are on small, neat pieces of card and are not large and distracting to your audience.

2. Don’t ever read directly from your notes. If you have prepared your notes properly, they should just be single words, and not a script.

3. Never cover your face with your notes, or fidget with them as you speak. I’ve seen speakers lift their notes to their face to read them, breaking contact, and engagement with their audience. This mortal sin will lose any rapport you’ve successfully built with your audience as they quickly realise that this isn’t a heartfelt speech, it’s simply a recital of your notes!

How to develop your skills and present without notes

For all of us the goal is to be able to deliver the perfect presentation with no notes at all.

With every speech that we make we can slowly begin to wean ourselves off of using notes. Small and steady steps will get us to where we need to be.

As you become more confident and begin to use your notes less during your speeches, slowly decrease the amount of words that you have on your prompt cards.

Then, as your confidence grows even further, place your notes on a table next to the stage, or in your pocket, so that you only call on them when you really need them.

It won’t be long before you come off stage and realise…‘my notes are still in my pocket’…and at that point, you’ll be one of those speakers, that can deliver seamlessly without any notes to hand.