How to Use Notes When Speaking

Way back in 1994, I ran a training team and was scratching my head as to what to buy them for Christmas. I came up with the idea of plastic recipe book holders so they could place their running notes on them at the perfect angle to read them from a distance.

Running notes is a phrase I coined years’ ago to describe what speakers and trainers need to have to remind them what to say or do during a speaking or training engagement.

Over the years I’ve developed various ways of remembering what to say when speaking to groups of people and much of choice comes down to how much preparation time you have and whether you can snatch a few moments to read your notes? Think small cosy groups where you can drink water or lean over to glance at your notes versus big audience gigs where every movement is scrutinised and looking at notes may well be frowned upon.

Here are my favourites, in no particular order:

  • Bulleted keyword phrases on card, placed on the table near me located next to the water. These allow me to glance at my notes without holding them and surreptitiously having a drink of water. It would help if you had a bit of time to create these; they are quite linear, so it’s not easy to go off track or change the order on the day.
  • Mindmap of bulleted phrases, starting at “one o’clock”, I use these to cover my content when I want to have lots of flexibility. Again these need time to prepare.  These and the usual bulleted notes are my favourites and can be used with live audiences when training or on video when presenting online.
  • Memorising the structure or the bulleted notes. This requires lots of preparation and practice but works well when talking to large audiences when referring to notes isn’t the done thing. The best way to memorise the bulleted structure is to convert each word or phrase into a picture and insert this into an imaginary journey such as an everyday cycle ride or a trip around your house. Once the images are in your imaginary journey, they are surprisingly easy to recall and keep to order too. Without notes, you can work the stage, use your body language to maximum effect and enjoy yourself. Great with Ted-style talks.
  • A4 written or typed notes. These can be used if you’re quoting someone or recalling some stats or information. Quite acceptable to pick this up and read to the audience. However, you must put them down when done.
  • Cue cards which you hold onto. I’ve never been a fan, but I do get it. Ensure they are small enough to fit in your hand to stop you from holding onto them like a prayer book in church. Staple or hole punch them together in case they are dropped.
  • PowerPoint slides – don’t do it. Don’t rely on these to remember what to say. It’s lazy and disrespectful to your audience
  • Winging it – don’t, just don’t.
  • Autocue – only if you’re Donald Trump

The recipe book holders? How were they received as a Christmas present? Leave it that they weren’t on my list ever again.